A spotlit bullhorn sat centre stage at the West End Cultural Centre Sunday afternoon, setting the scene for an emotional musical tribute to Winnipeg's late political activist Nick Ternette. It was to act as a placekeeper for the fallen icon, said Donald Benham, a former city councillor and close friend of Ternette's.
"A bullhorn mysteriously appeared in his hands. We don't know where it came from, who gave it to him, who owned the bullhorn. It just appeared," Benham said, recalling the first time he saw Ternette with the megaphone at a protest in the 1970s. It would become a symbol of Ternette's relentless fight for Winnipeg's less fortunate.
Benham led a group of speakers and performers at the free memorial concert Sunday, titled Rebel Without a Pause -- Celebrating Nick Ternette. The concert was headlined by Fred Penner and featured folk duo Karen Dana and Harry Havey, pianist Yvette Berger and the Winnipeg Labour Choir.
The concert was Nick's idea, said Ternette's widow, Emily, a request in his will to have friends and family gather for a free afternoon of music at one of his favourite venues, the WECC. If people felt inclined to pay, they could donate to the Nick Ternette Memorial Fund, an organization that supports projects related to social justice, urban politics and community development -- causes Ternette devoted his life to.
"This is Nick's day. I wanted it to be Nick's day," Emily said before the concert, the lobby of the intimate West End venue packed around her.
It may have been Nick's day, but Emily shared in the spotlight with her late husband, sitting in the front row and sharing in laughter and tears with each speaker.
Penner opened a three-song set with Teagan's Lullaby, a song off his first album named for Nick and Emily's daughter.
"This song kind of became our starting point," Penner said, Emily nodding from the audience.
Penner went on to describe Nick as "the epitome of support," recalling Nick and Emily parking their wheelchairs at nearly every concert he put on. Nick lost his legs to a flesh-eating illness after surviving two bouts of cancer.
"Nick dealt with some stuff, didn't he? Boy, oh boy. He truly was an amazing soul, and what he was able to bring to the table, and how he dealt with people and the challenges that he was going through in life. Hard times, indeed," Penner said, leading into a cover of Stephen Foster's Hard Times Come Again No More.
Former mayoral candidate and MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis called Nick her friend, mentor and role model, admitting they didn't always agree. Wasylycia-Leis said the last disagreement they had was during the last civic election over her proposal for rapid transit.
"I think that's where the similarities between the present administration and Nick Ternette end," Wasylycia-Leis joked.
The lobby of the WECC was lined with countless news clippings about and by Nick, chronicling his extensive efforts in social policy, peace demonstrations and civic politics.
"Those who know city hall best regarded his knowledge as almost encyclopedic," said Mike Welfley, a former neighbour and colleague on a number of social and political peacekeeping committees. Nick ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Winnipeg five times and was a frequent presenter at Winnipeg city council meetings. "Very few citizens, including myself, have the time or energy or whatnot to devote to civic politics. He was almost alone in that respect, fighting."