"Benjamin Chi Chi and my link to Canada geese" Harbourfront & Toronto Islands Tip by CatherineReichardt
Harbourfront & Toronto Islands, Toronto: 73 reviews and 137 photos
Ever since my childhood in Britain, I have been susceptible to the monochrome charms of Canada geese, which are surprisingly cosmopolitan birds with a range that spans Nothern Europe as well as North America. Seeing them bobbing away on Lake Ontario one breezy spring day was a treat and got me thinking about one of my favourite artists, the First Nation Canadian Benjamin Chee Chee.
When I first moved to Johannesburg, I had a flat in Berea, which is now the haunt of pimps, prostitutes and Nigerian drug lords, but was then a rather pleasant place to live for young professionals who were just starting out on their own. I used to commute into work in the Johannesburg CBD by bus, which would take me down Eloff Street, then the main shopping street of the city.
One day, the window display in a picture framers changed, as I was confronted by the first and only picture that has ever really 'spoken' to me. I spent a couple of weeks staring longingly at it as I rode past, and come pay day, I summoned up my courage and nervously entered the shop to see whether it was within my meagre budget. Happily it was, and the Benjamin Chee Chee print that you see in the photo entered my life.
25 years later, it still hangs in my lounge, in pride of place over the mantelpiece, and I can't imagine life without it. Its 'twin' hangs in my friend's house in Perth - she always admired it, so I presented it to her as a thank you for her support during a particularly traumatic period of my life.
Poor Benjamin Chee Chee was not so fortunate. The serenity of his work belies the fact that he was traumatised by being abandoned by his mother as an adolescent and descended into alcoholism and drug addiction. His short troubled life ended when he committed suicide in an Ottawa jail, aged only 32, leaving behind a glorious legacy.
Chee Chee was from Northern Ontario, and you will find his work represented in most gift shops.
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