At their annual “Honouring Our Elders” project Smithers Secondary School (SSS) paid tribute to two well-known Smithereens with portraits painted by students.
Every two years since 2006 the program has selected two local elders, one from the Indigenous (Wet’suwet’en) and one from the non-Indigenous communities, who have “proven to be an invaluable citizen and inspiration.”
This year’s selections were Former Smithers’ town councillor and MLA Bill Goodacre and now-retired Moricetown Elementary School (MES) teacher Antoinette Austin.
The portraits of Goodacre and Austin were painted by SSS students Jessica Nelson and Lindsey Pierce, respectively.
“This important project connects cultures and it bridges generations for our youth and for all of us, actually, to become more aware of the contributions of our elders in our community,” said Perry Rath, an art teacher at SSS and the project’s co-founder and co-ordinator.
“The students painters typically do not know the elders when they begin this project over time and over the intimate act of painting they get to know their images and develop a desire to learn about the person behind the portrait.”
Sadly Goodacre passed away while this portrait was in progress, however, his son Murray Goodacre took the stage to say a few words about his father before the portrait was unveiled.
“I still remember that evening … spending our final moments with him and thinking to myself do we issue a press release?
“This was the quandary we had, he was our father but he was also so much to so many other people.”
Murray said while the outpouring of responses following his father’s death was not something they would have predicted, it didn’t surprise them one bit.
As for the funeral venue, many suggested one of the Town’s arenas for the services due to the large size of the potential attendance.
However, the family had other plans.
“We knew the [Dze Ḻ Kant] Friendship Centre would have been his only choice.”
In preparing for the ceremony Murray said he was constantly taken aback by the response to Bill’s passing.
People involved with the proceedings suggested the family make a lot more bereavement cards than usual.
“A few days later we were told we should double that number.”
Smithers NDP MP candidate for Skeena-Bulkley Valley Taylor Bachrach was also in attendance at the unveiling.
He told one story in particular about Bill, who would ride his bicycle downtown, getting around everywhere by bike for many years.
One day someone stole Bill’s bike, at which point Bachrach said he found Bill walking.
“I ran into [him] and I’m like, ‘Bill why are you walking, where’s your bike?’ and he said, ‘Oh it appears that someone needed it more than me.’”
“I always think of Bill in those moments when he was unphased by the turns that life took.”
Bachrach also mentioned how proud he knew Bill was to have had Goodacre Place named after him.
“He was in the Bulkley Lodge near the end of his life and he phoned me up one day and you could just tell he was so excited, he wanted to tell me.
“He was so touched and honoured and I know he was touched and honoured by this honouring here today.”
Austin was also present at the event and told her own story of growing up attending many different schools within the district.
She discussed both the many hardships she faced as a schoolgirl and the incredible people she met along the way.
“Thank you very much for this honour, it’s an incredible honour, I do not take this lightly,” she said.
“For that quiet little girl who walked the hallways of all those schoolsin School District 54 to be put on the wall, I’m blessed.”
The portraits will be displayed on the outside wall by the front entrance of SSS.