For the past 19 years, Rhona Wenger has been bringing beautiful and challenging art exhibitions from across Canada to this small town halfway between Niagara Falls and Toronto. Last year alone, more than 21,000 people visited the Grimsby Public Art Gallery, and Rhona was able to talk to many of them. “If I was in Hamilton or Toronto, I’d be up in my little office and hardly ever get the chance to interact with the visitors,” she says. Instead, in Grimsby, she can have in depth conversations with them about the latest show—which is just one of the things she loves.
Q: What’s your role?
Rhona: My job title is director and curator, but my job description is to do whatever needs to get done. As an organization, our role is to bring the best quality art in Canada today to Grimsby. We want people to stop, look and think—because, really, that’s what art is supposed to do. We just took down an exhibition by Shelley Niro, a nationally recognized Indigenous artist, that helped people connect with issues they’re hearing about in the news, like missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Q: What surprises people about the gallery?
Rhona: How beautiful the place is. They don’t expect that in a small town. People will say, “This is like a Toronto gallery.” Well, it’s a Grimsby gallery. So it’s better than Toronto! They don’t expect this quality and standard in a small town.
Q: What’s up next?
Rhona: An exhibition of Murray Bowman’s work. Murray was the gallery’s first curator whose career was cut short by a traumatic brain injury. We aren’t just showcasing his work as an up and coming artist, but we’ll have a section of the exhibition devoted to the role of art therapy, because he continued to draw and paint as part of his rehabilitation.
Q: What do you love about Grimsby?
Rhona: I love being able to walk to work. I love that when I walk around town, people I don’t know will say “hi” to me. The placement on the lake, the escarpment, that small-town feel. Grimsby Beach is great, the way people have really gotten involved in the history and fixing up the houses and painting them fun and funky colours. It appeals to the artist in all of us.
Q: What’s something not to be missed?
Rhona: Besides the gallery? There are some walking trails through the middle of downtown that are real hidden gems. I can walk out of the gallery and in five minutes be at the corner of Main and Christie and descend onto the 40 Mile Creek trail. I might as well be in the wilderness. It’s amazing.
Q: How has the community changed over the time you’ve lived here?
Rhona: There’s a lot more of it! I’m glad the development is mostly townhouses and they’re fairly dense. I miss the orchards, particularly the spring blossoms and the links with Grimsby’s agricultural history, but it’s the development and all the new residents that make this such a dynamic and vibrant community.
Q: What’s the most exciting recent development in Grimsby?
Rhona: The work being done to make the lakeshore more accessible is exciting. I came from Cobourg, and you could walk along the lake from the middle of town, well, let’s just say it was farther than my dog was willing to go. When I came here I thought I should be able to do the same thing. It’s nice there’s a definite effort being made by the town to consciously develop trail and parklands along the lake.
Photo by GPAG Staff