In 1951, the City of Edmonton began the tradition of celebrating outstanding accomplishments of Edmonton athletes. Today, the tradition continues with an expanded mandate to include arts and culture, and community service. The Salute to Excellence Committee gathered nominations to recognize and honour Edmonton’s most outstanding citizens who, through their participation in arts and culture, community service, and sports, have made exemplary contributions to the quality of life in Edmonton. During a formal evening presentation at the magnificent Francis Winspear Centre for Music, the Salute to Excellence Committee inducts outstanding Edmontonians into the City of Edmonton Arts and Culture, Community Service, and Sports Halls of Fame.
Community Service Hall of Fame
The Community Service Hall of Fame was established in 2004 and honours outstanding individuals who have made a significant and/or lifetime contribution to the community, which enhances the quality of life in Edmonton, and shall be understood to include health, recreation, community, educational and social services.
Community Leader: Outstanding individuals who have demonstrated exemplary leadership or service to an organization(s) which has brought credit to Edmonton for activities which may be local, national, or international, but which are recognized at a national or international level.
Community Builder: Notable individuals who have founded and led the service or organization for which they are to be recognized or worked to establish and develop the service or organization over a lengthy period of years. Such people may have provided leadership and service to more than one organization.
2017 Community Service Hall of Fame Inductees
Sam Abouhassan fled civil war in Lebanon in 1976 and arrived in Edmonton at age 20 with just $14 in his pocket. Today, he is a respected businessman who has raised millions for charities supporting everything from children’s health to arthritis. “It’s the least I could do to give back to the community that gave me such a nice life,” he says.
Many know Abouhassan as the “tailor to the stars.” He’s been at it since age 12 when his school principal suggested that he take up a trade. “I liked clothes, so I walked into a tailor shop and asked if I could help. They handed me a broom and I stayed until I left the country.” Abouhassan opened his own shop at age 22 in the basement of Edmonton’s King Edward Hotel. But he didn’t know enough English. “So I took a tailoring course at NAIT just to learn the language.” He quickly ended up on the board of the program he was enrolled in and “I realized I was getting satisfaction just volunteering my time.” By age 25 he was on 3 boards in the city.
Fast forward to 2017. Abouhassan is celebrated for his philanthropic work across many areas. In 2000 he co-founded, with Kevin Lowe, Tee Up for Tots, a golf tournament that not only raised the profile of the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation to the number one foundation in Edmonton, but has raised more than $10 million since its inception. Just a few among the many organizations he has supported are ABC Headstart, Boys & Girls Clubs, Zebra Foundation, Alberta Lung Association, the University of Alberta Faculty of Arts and the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers. He has also been a mentor to others looking to support their community.
I’ve always been a firm believer that if you don’t have the money you always have the time.
Herb C. Belcourt, Orval M. Belcourt, Georges Brosseau, Q.C.
Cousins Herb Belcourt, a businessman, and Orval Belcourt, a social worker, and lawyer Georges Brosseau started Canative Housing Corporation to provide affordable housing for indigenous people living in or moving to Edmonton or Calgary. Their goal was life-altering for people living in deplorable conditions. The result, a non-profit housing corporation that has changed the lives of thousands.
Canative borrowed $3.1 million from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and a lesser amount from the Alberta Housing Corporation, bought 158 houses and turned them into homes for 1,220 indigenous people. More than a thousand of them children and many of whom had decent housing for the first time in their lives. The loans were paid off, with interest, within 15 years.
Canative was more than a housing rental company. It also had a social conscience. Many of the people who lived in its houses needed more than shelter; they needed a good foundation of general life skills; including how to live in a home and in a community. A landlord with a difference, Canative provided an eight-week course teaching skills such as cooking, nutrition, sewing and home maintenance. There was a day care centre and free bus service during the course.
The 3 men liquidated the housing corporation over a period of two or three years and gave people the opportunity to buy their houses in 2001. Assets totalling $12 million were invested with the Edmonton Community Foundation to create a permanent endowment for Métis students known as the Belcourt Brosseau Métis Awards. At $18 million the fund is unique in Canada and provides more than 140 awards each year between $2,000–$10,000 to support Métis students in more than 200 different post-secondary programs including university, apprenticeship and skill training. Over 96 per cent of recipients complete their program and several recipients are now donors themselves.
We’re investing in our people and it’s proving we did the right thing. Canada will be proud of its native people. We were always leaders.
Anne Fanning Binder
Anne Fanning Binder’s career in medicine—as a clinician, researcher, scholar, patient advocate, public health policy-maker and health sciences professional—can be considered historic in its own right.
Binder is a respected international authority on tuberculosis (TB) and has promoted treatment of infectious diseases in the context of social conditions.
She has advocated for culturally informed care nationally, is widely respected as a mentor and educator, has founded countless programs such as the Global Health curriculum, and served on or chaired committees too numerous to list.
Binder points to her mother, also a physician, as a major influence. “She believed you could do whatever you wanted to do. She was a wonderful person, totally committed to social justice issues. Both of my parents were concerned with social justice.”
TB became a lifelong career focus. The connection of TB to poverty fit Binder’s commitment to social justice, which itself is reflected in many of her professional activities.
When she was fired by the provincial government for being too outspoken,
It opened a door to many other things. My colleagues at the World Health Organization gave me a job with them, so I packed up and went to Geneva. It was full of people who have done interesting things all their lives. That was kind of a treat. Everyone should do that at 59!
Now retired, she regularly lectures at the University of Alberta Hospital about TB and volunteers with community organizations. Her work has garnered numerous awards, among them Member of the Order of Canada, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, the Alberta Medical Association’s designation in 2005 as one of Alberta’s 100 Physicians of the Century and the Japanese Anti-Tuberculosis Association Princess Chichibu Memorial TB Global Award.
The broader social issues were a highlight. How lucky can you be to be loving what you are doing while you are doing it. I’ve had a wonderful time, and that’s what I’m grateful for.
Alfred A. Nikolai
When he retired after 32 years in government and post-secondary education in 2005, Alfred Nikolai committed to 2 years as President and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Edmonton. He is still with Habitat, “and I have no intention of stopping.” The organization has grown from building 3 homes a year into the largest Habitat affiliate in Canada, regularly building over 50 homes annually in Northern Alberta.
The son of German/Polish immigrants, Nikolai grew up on a subsistence farm near Edmonton. “We never had anything, but we had a strong family bond and a strong work ethic. I was sheltered from what the real world looked like. I didn’t understand there were people who struggled to keep clothes on their backs.”
As a teacher in Labrador, Nikolai developed programs to ensure all students had access to showers and learned how to wash their clothes. He started a ski club and partnered with the military to provide survival training, snowshoeing, skating and swimming. “These kids’ self-image went way up with just the simple things we take for granted. Having a decent home and environment to live in is most important. Those values have always been in the background of what I’ve done.”
In his work with Habitat, he’s shown an impressive ability to bring people together toward a common cause, evidenced by his success in partnering with all sectors of society–corporations, businesses, governments and volunteers – to transform life for families and communities.
In 2017, the Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter Work Project is in Edmonton July 9–14. “To get the Carter Work Project to come to your city is like winning the bid to host the Olympics!” Nikolai says. He adds, “They’re going to build 150 homes in Canada for our 150th anniversary and half of them will be built in Edmonton and Fort Saskatchewan.”
I believe with every ounce of my being that the economic model for Habitat for Humanity works. People get the social benefit of stability and self-esteem in owning their home. That is transformational. We are changing lives for families in their communities, not only for their generation, but for generations to come.
Arts and Culture Hall of Fame Inductees
Edmonton’s Arts and Cultural Hall of Fame was established in 1986 to honour outstanding individuals and groups whose work in arts and culture has brought recognition to Edmonton.
These outstanding individuals and groups, through their artistic or multicultural achievements, have brought honour and distinction to the city and have made exemplary contributions to the quality of life in Edmonton.
Artist: Outstanding individuals who, through a substantial body of work in an artistic discipline or in a multicultural sphere, have brought credit to Edmonton. Such extraordinary individuals would normally have developed a national or international reputation.
Artist/Builder: Noteworthy artists or individuals from cultural groups/organizations who have given prolonged (generaaly 10 years or more) and exceptional service to artistic and multicultural activities in Edmonton.
Builder: A noteworthy individual who has given prolonged and exceptional service over a period of at least 10 years to artistic and multicultural activities in Edmonton.
Ted Bishop was writing creative non-fiction before he even knew what it was. A Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, he had previously concentrated on scholarly pieces about the likes of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. “From the time I was 14, I wanted to write a book with a penguin on it and a motorcycle in it,” he says.
Bishop finally got his motorcycle, a Ducati, and decided to ride it to Texas and write about it. A New York agent told him he was one of countless others with the same goal. What was so special about his idea? Riding with Rilke: Reflections on Motorcycles and Books, published by Penguin/Viking, answered the question. One critic described it as “an account of a road trip on the back of a Ducati that is also a tribute to literature, life, and landscape.” Bishop’s next book, The Social Life of Ink: Culture, Wonder and Our Relationship with the Written Word, is another example of how, in the words of another critic, he “makes the reader share his wonder at the world.” The book arose from his question to a librarian: where is the book on ink? There wasn’t one, until Bishop wrote it. That book took him around the world from Utah to China exploring everything from the ball point pen to a Qur’an stained with the blood of a caliph who was assassinated while reading it.
Bishop has written numerous pieces of non-fiction and been nominated for and won many awards. Both of his books were finalists for the Canada Council Prize in Non-fiction. He is equally comfortable speaking to a high-level academic group or a class of Grade 4 students. “I gave them the same exercise I give all my classes: take the sentence ‘the woman walked up to the door’ and substitute more descriptive words. Those kids were actually inspiring. I’m hoping enough people will have them write stories that will become their own creative non-fiction.”
“Usually what comes to me are questions that I can’t find the answer to, so I go off and write something. I never know how it is going to end. It’s a journey and mode of exploration.”
John Hudson was well on his way to becoming a lawyer when he got sidelined by the requirement for an arts option at the University of Alberta. “I took something like introduction to acting and absolutely loved the course. I still hold a sense of wonder for theatre. Each time out is an adventure.”
The Executive Director and one of the founders of the newly refurbished Varscona Theatre and co-founder and Artistic Director of Shadow Theatre, Hudson has played many roles on the theatre scene in Edmonton. As an actor he has performed with nearly every theatre organization, from the Fringe to the Citadel, and has directed in almost every theatre venue in Edmonton. In 1998, he was recognized as one of the University of Alberta Drama Department’s “most distinguished graduates.”
Hudson is equally comfortable in a management role. “I’ve always felt that arts organizations need to be able to be well managed and sustain themselves. The business side is always a challenge. But it’s actually something I quite enjoy.”
As Artistic Director of Shadow Theatre, Hudson implemented a successful new play development program. He has directed more than 100 plays and won the outstanding production award at the Edmonton Fringe Festival 3 times. He also served 3 years on the Edmonton Arts Council, one as Chair.
Hudson was the driving force behind the Varscona Theatre reconstruction. With up to 350 performances per year, the Varscona Theatre is one of the busiest theatre spaces in Canada. As CEO, Hudson was a key member of the team that raised over $7.5 million for the theatre’s rebuilding. He is working now to build the theatre into a major cultural centre for Edmonton. “When we finished the building, the last two years were exhausting and draining. Now I feel revved up and ready to go. Why rest now? It’s time to take another leap!”
“I really feel that if your company is in good shape financially, it makes the art thrive.”
Everyone in the music business, and beyond, knew her only by her last name: Kirby. That was how she wanted it. They also knew her as one of the best sound technicians in Western Canada and as a booking agent, a publicist, an artist manager, a venue broker, a journalist, and the list goes on.
Kirby died after a short battle with cancer at age 60 in 2014. During her more than four decades in the music business she wore nearly every hat imaginable. It would be difficult to find an Edmonton musician who hasn’t been helped or motivated by her. This trailblazing matriarch of the music scene in Edmonton was a staunch advocate for musicians’ rights. No one was too small to receive her full attention and the benefit of her knowledge and wisdom. She was a mentor to hundreds of young people as they tried to establish themselves in the Edmonton music scene.
Nicknamed “The Badass Queen of the Edmonton Scene,” Kirby started in the industry in the early 1970s as sound technician for blues act Tacoy Ryde. She toured with the band and ran venue sound for Edmonton spots such as the Power Plant, Starlite Room and Dinwoodie Lounge. Her company Ramparts Entertainment served as manager and publicist for musical artists and she booked talent for the Sidetrack Café, Black Dog and Festival Place. Meanwhile, she helped local artists write grant applications and was a passionate music commentator.
Kirby helped many achieve exposure on the local, national and international scenes. She moved many local careers forward and was behind some of Canada’s successful acts, including David GoGo, Bobby Cameron and Jr. Gone Wild. Her contact list was a who’s who of the Canadian music scene, yet she was never too busy to help emerging artists seeking direction.
“We all owe Kirby a huge thank you for making Edmonton’s music scene one of the most vibrant in Canada. Her life and legacy leaves all of us (musicians and music lovers alike) something very special to celebrate.” Gord Steinke
Sharma Padmanabhan & Radha Padmanabhan
Sharma and Radha Padmanabhan arrived in Edmonton from India in 1974, and while they loved their new home, they felt something was missing. What they did to fill that void has added meaning not only to their own lives, but to countless others while also adding to Edmonton’s multicultural image.
The Padmanabhans are in their 38th year as producers of the Image India television program on Shaw TV. The program is a labour of love and depends wholly on volunteers, says Radha. “It is Indian-based, but the communication is in English and includes every culture.”
The program’s content ranges from arts, culture, dance and music to local news, documentaries and interviews with well-known local, national and international personalities. Radha does a cooking segment in her own kitchen titled “Cooking With Radha,” featuring vegetarian cooking. Shows have also included segments on meditation, spirituality, fitness, healthy living and mobility for seniors.
“We give media volunteers practice with camera angles, lighting, and producing a quality show,” Radha says. “Some go on to careers in TV production and establish their own video studios. There’s never a dull moment.”
The Padmanabhans also produce successful stage concerts featuring local artists as well as world-class visiting artists, mostly from India. They provide the hospitality of their own residence to make Edmonton a home away from home for the visitors.
She adds, “All our crews are of different religions and ethnicities. After each rehearsal for our stage concerts, we all sit down for a meal together and I do the cooking. We bring people from different cultures together. We have so much talent everywhere. It is definitely a passion for us.”
The bi-weekly program is broadcast every Sunday between 6-7pm on Shaw TV, Ch. 10.
“It is never going to end. We still have the same passion and energy we had when we started. And I think through our leadership we’ve made Edmonton a paragon of multiculturalism.”
Sports Hall of Fame Inductees
Edmonton’s Sports Hall of Fame had its beginnings in 1961 with the induction of 6 esteemed builders and athletes. Edmonton athletes have represented the city credibly in competition, with exemplary sportsmanship and skill. Our builders of sport have given our city a strong foundation in which our athletes develop their skills and abilities.
Athlete: Outstanding athletes who have represented Edmonton commendably by attaining exceptional results and whose example of exemplary sportsmanship have brought credit to the sport and high regard for the individual.
Builder: Individuals who have given prolonged (generally 10 years or more) and meritorious service to sports activities in Edmonton.
Athletes/Builders: Individuals, whose careers combined wholly, or in part, the qualities referred in the 2 previous categories.
Teams: Edmonton-based teams or members of the team, that have represented Canada, the Province of Alberta, and/or the City of Edmonton, with exceptional results and whose example of good sportsmanship have brought credit to the sport and high regard for the team.
Tim Berrett would be the first to tell you “race walking is not something you do for glamour, that’s for sure.” That might sound strange coming from a 5-time Olympian, in 20-kilometre and 50-kilometre race walking. Berrett is also the only Canadian athlete to compete at 9 consecutive IAAF World Championships. He won 2 Commonwealth Games medals and holds Canadian records over distances ranging from 3,000 metres to 50,000 metres.
Berrett would also tell you that he is one of 3 of the 9 members of the Athletics Canada Board of Directors who are current or former race walkers. How does he account for the apparent popularity of this little-known discipline? “Race walkers tend to be very passionate about the sport in general,” he says. “Because the events are so long, it gives you a lot of time to think. We tend to be fairly well educated. And we kind of crop up in unexpected places.”
Berrett attributes his involvement in race walking to having grown up in the heyday of track and field in England in the 1980s. “I was hooked on track and when I was 13 and a teacher told us about a race walking event that literally went by my front door. I didn’t want to just watch other people doing it, so I gave it a try and finished third.” That sent him to the nationals where he finished 14th. The next year he finished on the national podium and then won a British age-group title in each of the following 5 years. After moving to Canada in 1987, he won 15 national titles in this country.
Berrett has been involved in athletics for over 35 years and for the past two decades has also, with the strong support of his family, played leadership roles, both in promoting athletics to young people from elementary to post-secondary schools and as an officer of Athletics Alberta, Athletics Canada and other national and international athletics organizations and committees. He was inducted into Athletics Canada’s Hall of Fame Class of 2016.
Track and field was the number one summer sport in England in the 1980s. I remember watching meets in Europe at age eight and was hooked from there. Now I’m giving back to the sport.
Hugh Campbell has been inducted into 9 Hall of Fames, from Los Gatos High School in San Jose, California, to the City of Edmonton, where as head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos he led the team to 5 consecutive Grey Cups (1978–1982).
At Washington State University, he was considered one of football’s great pass receivers. Known as “The Phantom of the Palouse,” he caught 66 passes as a sophomore and received the Voit Memorial Trophy for outstanding football player on the Pacific Coast. As a Saskatchewan Roughrider, “Gluey Hughy” set a career high of 1,329 receiving yards and caught a career-high 17 touchdown receptions. He helped the team to 3 consecutive Grey Cup appearances, including the 1966 championship.
Campbell began his coaching career at Whitworth College in Spokane. In Edmonton, he led the Eskimos to 5 consecutive Grey Cup wins. His 0.729 winning percentage was the best in CFL history, and he received the Annis Stukus Trophy as Coach of the Year in 1979. After 3 years coaching in the United States Football League and National Football League in the United States in the mid-80s, he returned to the Eskimos as General Manager. In 1997, he became President and CEO, a post he held until his retirement in 2006.
Campbell is well known for his compassion and impact as a person by those who have worked with him. “He knew to be successful you have to believe you will be successful, and he motivated you to see yourself as a success,” said one.
Campbell’s legacy with the Eskimos included thousands of volunteer hours donated by players and Eskimo Alumni. Campbell and his wife Louise helped either to create or sustain Kids With Cancer, Ronald McDonald House, the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters and the Eskimo/Oilers Carnival of Champions. Campbell was notably successful in having words added to the Alberta Marriage License with the intent of recognizing and preventing abuse.
Hugh often quoted a line he first heard in college:
It’s amazing how much a group of people can accomplish when none of them care about who gets the credit.
When Laurie Eisler came to Edmonton in her mid-20s, it turned out to be a great move for her and the University of Alberta Pandas (U of A) volleyball team. In her second season as coach, the Pandas made it to the championship game for the first time in the school’s history. The Pandas have since won over 714 games of the 976 Eisler has coached, the most overall wins ever at the U of A in a single sport. The Pandas have won 7 U Sport Championships and 11 Canada West Conference Titles, and Eisler has been named Canada West Coach of the Year seven times and CIS Coach of the Year 3 times.
“I was fortunate to work alongside a really great mentor at the University of Saskatchewan, Mark Tennant,” Eisler says. “Every day was like a clinic working with him. He had such a passion for and knowledge of the sport.”
Eisler’s success wasn’t overnight, especially after having 2 children. “There were few coaching parents and almost no women, so I wasn’t really sure I could be successful doing it all. With the support of my employer, the team and my family, we have found a way to make it work.” Eisler became a role model for other women and her kids have become outstanding student athletes. Her son Clayton plays hockey and daughter Jenae will join the Pandas volleyball team next fall.
“At this point in my career, while I may have ticked off a lot of boxes, I feel there is still so much to learn and accomplish. I’m asked almost daily: are you still coaching? As if for women it’s not really a career. For me it’s been more than a career, it’s my passion and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work with so many amazing young people over the many years!”
One of Eisler’s nominators says, “She needed to create a winning culture from a program with no history of winning. She built what is arguably one of the most consistently successful sport programs in Canada, from virtually nothing to the top.”
I truly want to be there for my athletes and support staff. I want to help them thrive and excel and achieve their potential. I can’t think of any other job I’d enjoy as much.
Sheila P. O’Kelly
Sheila O’Kelly, a native of Ireland, came to Edmonton in 1978 and soon discovered she, her husband and 4 competitive kids could enjoy triathlon as a sport together. Luckily for Edmonton, O’Kelly found out she was better at organizing than doing the sport herself.
After O’Kelly became involved in Kids of Steel, a triathlon event for children and youth, she honed her skills organizing the St. Albert Triathlon. At the Canadian Triathlon Championship in Fort McMurray in 1995, she put a bid forward for Junior Nationals in 1996, beginning her long association with Triathlon Canada and the International Triathlon Union (ITU). The following year, she was Race Director for the Canadian Junior Championship in St. Albert. Her team’s presentation to the ITU was the winning submission that made Edmonton host city of the World Championship in 2001. After the event, the ITU President declared the Edmonton World Championship the best in the sport’s history.
Edmonton has hosted a major international triathlon every year since 1999, with the exception of a 3-year break from 2007–2010. When San Diego backed out of hosting the 2014 Grand Final, the ITU asked if Edmonton could step in with just 17 months’ notice. O’Kelly’s team pulled it off, and recently won the 2020 Grand Final for Edmonton, making Edmonton and Lausanne the only two cities in the world to be host city for the event 3 times.
O’Kelly was held in such high esteem in the triathlon world that she was appointed Director of the ITU’s World Cup series in 2005. She has travelled the world and played an organizational role in every World Championship/Grand Final since 1998. O’Kelly’s efforts are credited with Edmonton setting standards other cities in the triathlon world strive to meet. O’Kelly is not afraid to get her hands dirty. She has done it all from making sandwiches for hungry athletes and working with media to sweeping courses and piling cones. It is a quality that has volunteers coming back year after year to work with her.
It’s Edmonton’s ‘can do’ attitude. A lot of people here came from somewhere else. Triathlon is a way for them to become involved, a way to participate in the community. Part of the legacy of Edmonton as a whole is the longevity and continuation of the event in terms of volunteers, sport development and expertise.