Special to The Lake Report
Sunlight streamed into Bright Parlour in the mansion at the Willowbank Estate on Thursday, April 6, heralding a special afternoon as a full audience witnessed the graduation of the Willowbank School of Restoration Arts class of 2023.
The significance of the Queenston-based school and convocation was underscored by the presence and words of several key individuals holding an interest in heritage conservation.
This included a moving welcome by Indigenous knowledge helper Marie Louise, an impressive perspective from Deputy Lord Mayor Erwin Wiens, the valued thoughts of heritage building conservationist and convocation speaker Philip Hoad and the moving comments of valedictorian MacKenzie Campbell.
It was clear that each speaker had carefully considered and then honed their remarks to provide impact, encouragement and opportunity to the six graduates as well as all Willowbank students who were able to attend.
Earlier in the day the six students had each presented their perspective of their time at Willowbank and their accomplishments during their third-year placement.
The students, guests and board members in attendance garnered knowledge of the skills these Willowbank students had acquired and then applied to their work experience.
But most particularly, the audience learned how close the members of this class had become.
Campbell emphasized this during her valedictory address, citing the fact that this group had enrolled in the COVID era and due to pandemic restrictions some courses were on-site and others were a hybrid mix.
She underscored how this had led the class to be extremely cohesive and enabled them to learn as much as possible during their tenure through mutually respected debate and discussion.
On behalf of the class she offered appreciation to the Willowbank instructors, administration and greater community for the invaluable learning experience and the forging of long-term relationships.
Hoad offered significant advice and his thoughts on the progress of the graduates over three challenging years.
He emphasized the value of their learning and the opportunities it would afford for future careers as well as the benefit for the heritage conservation sector.
He sent a strong, clear message on the continued need for a learning forum such as Willowbank and his comments were met with enthusiastic agreement by the audience.
Wiens’ presentation could only be offered by someone who had grown up in the area and even sledded on the Willowbank hill as a youth.
His upbeat and infectious delivery suggested a true commitment to the importance of heritage conservation in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
He suggested that perhaps some mutually beneficial opportunities in heritage planning could be explored between Willowbank and the town.
The graduates – Sean Blank, Rémy Bles, Joshua Chan, Dawn Chan, Johanna Keus and Campbell – were individually introduced and given their Willowbank diplomas in heritage conservation by Katie Houghton, director of the School of Restoration Arts.
The smiles on the faces of each graduate were a clear harbinger of the value each will bring to their careers in heritage conservation.
Willowbank, an internationally acclaimed, not-for-profit, private career college has been on the vanguard of heritage restoration, conservation and the adaptive reuse of existing buildings since 2006. King Charles III is the school’s patron.
John Scott is chair of the board of the Willowbank.