Our take on 24 local people who are shaping Kawartha Lakes for years to come
By Kirk Winter, Roderick Benns, Denise Waldron, Geoff Coleman, Jessica Munro, Nancy Payne, Rebekah McCracken and Trevor Hutchinson
This is by no means a comprehensive list of the top influencers of Kawartha Lakes. How could it be? It is merely a snapshot. A moment in time as we try to identify the women and men who are clearly shaping our city through their respective fields of expertise – politics, business, arts and culture, the non-profit world, law, food, sports, and as community leaders.
These people (or duos) are making change, doing innovative things, or going above and beyond, rather than just getting things done. They are thriving, usually for the betterment of the community they serve.
The Influencers will be an annual September tradition in the Advocate. In the future, many names will change as we find and add new influencers. Some may stay the same by virtue of their continued excellence.
Here, then, are our influential 24 across eight categories.
Ron Taylor – As chief administrative officer of Kawartha Lakes, Ron Taylor is the most powerful non-elected official in the city. With decades of experience and expertise, Taylor is intimately involved in what goes on at city hall providing advice to mayor and council, and then ensuring that the will of council is carried out by the city’s civil servants who are ultimately responsible to him. Taylor’s real power is based in his encyclopedic knowledge of both municipal and provincial rules and operating guidelines that few but the most veteran councilors take the time and effort to dive into. His professional manner and advice on the realities of what the city can and cannot do has made him the trusted confidant of both of former mayor Andy Letham and current mayor, Doug Elmslie.
Tracy Richardson – Tracy Richardson has a resume that most municipal politicians would kill for. As a life-long resident of Manvers Township, she has instant credibility as a so-called “local.” As a successful businessperson in multiple fields, she checks the boxes as someone who has made tough decisions and managed a payroll. As a two-time Ward Eight councillor and deputy-mayor, Richardson has found herself very close to many of the key city decisions made in the last five years. She was key in brokering the ORV compromise that tried to both permit and put rules in place to allow off-road vehicles more road access in Kawartha Lakes. It would be surprising if Richardson was not seriously considering a run for the mayor’s seat in 2026.
Eric Smeaton – It is accepted wisdom at council that a new member typically takes two-plus years to learn their job. Eric Smeaton appears to be ahead of the curve. The son of a career municipal politician, he does his homework and is ready consistently for the complexities that are often discussed at council. Smeaton also understands that being a councillor means being available to constituents and out and about in the public. One only needs to look at his Facebook feed to see the number of Ward Five and Kawartha Lakes activities Smeaton takes the time to attend. It would not be a surprise to see him campaign for the big chair in 2026 as an impassioned advocate for reasonable development and a defender of the city’s cultural communities.
Ev and Ted Smith – The founders of TS Manufacturing in 1972 have always been in growth mode. This influential couple’s plant designs, manufactures and installs equipment such as conveyers, stackers, and bulk handling systems for high-production lumber manufacturers and sawmills, mines, and pulp and paper mills worldwide. A recent investment from the province is allowing the plant to obtain advanced manufacturing equipment to expand production. This will help the company fill a need in the market by offering automated solutions, such as a first-in-the-world robotic lumber sorter. This project will also boost local supply chain spending, reduce waste in lumber production and strengthen the regional economy. The Smiths are a major employer in Kawartha Lakes, with more than 100 staff. The new project will add an additional 10 skilled jobs.
Matt Geraghty – Matt Geraghty is on a mission to make Kawartha Lake the best place for small businesses in Canada. In 2022 Geraghty, with his wife Megan, founded Thrive Coworking Community in Lindsay. In addition to renting private offices and shared space, Thrive aims to create a community hub with programming that aims to help and support small business owners and entrepreneurs achieve their goals. In 2020, Geraghty relaunched the Kawartha Small Business Podcast with co-host Brian Rump. With over 150 episodes produced to date, the podcast connects and encourages small businesses within the Kawartha region. Geraghty also runs his own digital marketing services company, Matty G Digital, that uses a common sense approach to helping businesses grow making him a go-to person for small business in the Kawarthas.
Jennifer Boksman – This small business owner has moved into the business spotlight in downtown Lindsay with her remarkably fun and innovative Needful Things, now one year old. The space is an eclectic wine bar (with wines not available at the LCBO) and espresso bar. There’s also antiques and random curiosities not to be found elsewhere. Needful Things has brought a touch of panache to the downtown and Boksman has already hosted a few events in the new space. A photographer for 31 years, she has also opened a staging company called “Staging the Kawarthas” with her niece Katie Relf of Katie Relf Designs. Prior to moving into the business spotlight on her own, Boksman and her partner, Aaron Young, designed and built The Pie Eyed Monk Restaurant and Brewery.
Arts & Culture
Barb Doyle – As manager of the Kawartha Lakes Museum and Archives (KLMA), Doyle has become a visible face of the Kawartha Lakes’ cultural community at city council meetings. Doyle has kept her message consistent that cultural entities within the city cannot survive on the backs of hard-pressed volunteers, and that the city needs to become involved in supporting cultural institutions, ensuring that they are staffed with full time professional people. She and her group scored a victory during the last round of budget deliberations, receiving stable funding from the city for five full-time staff for the foreseeable future. Other Kawartha Lakes cultural groups are hoping their organizations will be next, and that they will benefit from the leg work put in by Doyle and the KLMA.
James Barrett and Sarah Quick – James Bartlett and Sarah Quick have entertained cottage country audiences for 20 years through Globus Theatre and the Lakeview Arts Barn, located near Bobcaygeon. Favouring productions from Canadian playwrights, the pair brings both well-known and original dramas, comedies, musicals, and murder mysteries to area patrons. Never afraid of a challenge, they came through COVID which crushed the overall theatre industry stronger than ever with more offerings, and an expanded season now running from May through December. In addition to providing top-flight entertainment, and offering pre-show three-course dining, the pair also run youth and adult acting lessons, and Passport to Theatre, a five-day theatre arts camp for children aged 6 to 8. This dynamic duo punches far above its weight, inspiring and influencing theatre operations locally and in other parts of the province.
Tim Wisener – It takes influence and determination to rally the necessary support to start an ampitheatre. With lighting and sound reinforcement. Outdoors. In a mosquito-friendly cedar grove. In a town with no recent history of live theatre. That’s why Tim Wisener makes our list. He spent summers at Sturgeon Point for most of his life and moved there permanently five years ago, establishing Home by Tim + Chris in Fenelon Falls with his partner. Soon after, Wisener established The Grove Theatre, which resulted in two year-round employees, 16 seasonal positions, and 30 creative contracts each year. Approximately 50 volunteers round out the team. At the conclusion of this season, The Grove will have produced three mainstage productions, and presented 51 one-night performances, and they expect to sell their 10,000th ticket by the end of the year.
Ryan Oliver – No stranger to community activism, Ryan Oliver created Dogbus Music in the 2000s to celebrate music in Kawartha Lakes and then founded the Pinnguaq Association in 2011, a national organization focused on brining Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math (STEAM) opportunities to rural, remote and Indigenous communities across Canada. Pinnguaq now employs 100 people across Canada, including more than 50 locally. As CEO of Pinnguaq, Oliver works toward building a community that prioritizes diverse voices and ideas – one where people who have, give, and people who need can receive. Oliver is overseeing a massive local expansion as they renovate the 13,500 square foot former public works building at 12 Peel Street, Lindsay. Under Oliver’s leadership, Pinnguaq celebrates evidence-based science, community-led technology projects and the storytelling power of the arts in all its forms.
Vince Killen – Vince Killen is the driving force behind Launch Kawartha which helps businesses grow by supporting and offering guidance to local entrepreneurs. This influencer is passionate about helping new business owners and budding entrepreneurs thrive and his extensive resume proves it. Currently, he is the CEO for Launch Kawartha, a new innovation and entrepreneurship centre located in the heart of Lindsay. The centre was designed by Community Futures Development Corp., (KLCFDC) and funded by the Kawartha Lakes Business Community Development Corp., (KLBCDC) to offer free business advice and a space for entrepreneurs to work. Killen’s journey with KLCFDC began in 2020 as executive director. He previously worked as executive director for Community Futures Eastern Ontario and as the program manager for the Southern Ontario Fund for Investment and Innovation.
Heather Kirby – The executive director of Kawartha Lakes Food Source, Heather Kirby, is the leading voice on food insecurity in Kawartha Lakes. And while we lament her organization is needed at all, Kirby has seen the KLFS evolve from a warehouse and distribution centre for local food banks to a mission that includes programming to improve the community as a whole. Under Kirby’s leadership, the staff of five have launched an 80-bed community garden; a summer student lunch program for elementary students (along with two community partners); opened the Lindsay Community Food market which now serves 450 clients; and a family cooking project that enables families to prepare and learn about food together. These initiatives resulted in KLFS being awarded Food Banks Canada 2023 Excellence in Food Banking Award Recipient (medium size).
Karissa Ward – Karissa Ward runs one of the largest law firms in central Ontario. She and her husband, Jason Ward (who recently stepped down to pursue other interests), built Wards Lawyers into a local legal powerhouse. The firm does almost everything (other than criminal law), offering one of the largest and most accomplished litigation and dispute resolution teams in the area. Ward’s CV includes being appointed Ross Memorial Hospital Board of Governors Chair in 2014, an integral position to oversee an important institution for the city. She is also a professional speaker for the Law Society. In 2015 Ward was named Business Leader of the Year through the Lindsay + District Chamber of Commerce. Most recently, the Wards were among the 11 inductees of the inaugural Business Hall of Fame for Kawartha Lakes.
Heather Richardson – This lawyer’s leadership at Staples & Swain has made her downtown Lindsay law firm a well-known and trusted community brand. In 2007 there were seven full-time staff; now, there’s 22. Under her leadership, and with Angus McNeil as her partner since 2016, the practice has evolved with several renovations to the Lindsay office building, which now includes an accessible reception and meeting room areas on the main floor, expanded to include two additional lawyers and offices in both Lindsay and Beaverton. The firm offers a full range of solicitor services to the residents of Kawartha Lakes, north Durham and surrounding communities. Richardson has also been an active board member of the Ross Memorial Hospital Foundation from 2010 in several roles until her tenure expired in 2022.
Paul Riley – This dynamic lawyer with offices in Toronto and Ottawa moved to the Little Britain area nearly seven years ago with his spouse, acupuncturist Lori Mitchell. He found he loved the area so much he wanted to spend as much time here as possible and opened his new local office at 223 Kent St. W. in Lindsay. Riley only practices one type of law – divorce law – epitomizing the idea of finding a specialization and becoming a pro at it. He also found that COVID has accelerated his use of technology, allowing him to expand virtual legal offices. Places he is targeting next for this include Oakville, North York, and Niagara-on-the-Lake. This influencer has also been busy setting up a business referral club, extending his local community reach even further.
Nicki Dedes – Nicki Dedes is keeping the Greek tradition alive in downtown Lindsay with menus packed full of flavourful foods at the Olympia Restaurant, now in its third generation of family involvement. As long-time owner, she is dedicated to sharing healthy Mediterranean-inspired meals with the community. Dedes is a familiar welcoming face and is an unofficial local ambassador, given how many tourists she seats as they flock to the best patio in the downtown. The praise for the Olympia doesn’t stop at a current 4.4 Google rating that highlights fantastic owners and great food. Dedes and her husband and business partner, Costas Dedes, were recently recognized as exceptional business leaders and were inducted into this year’s Junior Achievement of Northern and Eastern Ontario’s inaugural Business Hall of Fame.
Samena Kennedy – Involvement in the community and loyalty to employees are two hallmarks of an influential boss, and The Locker in Fenelon Falls owner, Samena Kennedy, ticks both boxes. She began winning over fans during the pandemic which struck just three months after she had opened the Fenelon location. Instead of shuttering operations, she decided to offer delivery, earning a following in the community. Her employees also responded positively and agreed to a reduced work schedule, split equitably among all. Since then, Kennedy has proven to be a mentor and protector for her staff and strives to instill a sense of pride in their work. As a result, her staff retention is high. She also quietly supports many local fundraising initiatives, rarely turning down a request, especially if it involves youth.
Erastus Burley – Minden, Ontario may not be known as an incubator for the arts — but it launched Erastus Burley. A teacher noticed his sparkle and sent him away to art school for his high school career. As GM of The Pie Eyed Monk Brewery in Lindsay, Erastus adds flair to the role and community at large. Under his leadership, the Monk has its own craft beer, a nosh menu that is eclectic and gourmand and features events once only found in larger cities. Guests enjoy live music, stand-up, drag and pride events and theatre. In addition, Erastus manages Creative Force, which provides design, décor services, trade show resources, and theatre productions. Impressive for a boy who learned to sew, build and design while in elementary school in a small Haliburton village.
Tommy Duncan – Tommy Duncan is the linchpin of adult recreational sports, and as the “commissioner” of numerous recreation leagues, running the Sunday men’s hockey league, golf, and ball hockey leagues complete with websites and stats. Extending his influence in athletic participation beyond adults, he has initiated a sport program to grow the love of sport for some of the littlest tots in the area through a grassroots soccer exposure program for 3–5-year-olds, with minimal cost to participants, operating for the past two years. As a teacher at I.E. Weldon who is engaged in team sports, Duncan brings his positivity, support, time and effort to enable so many in Kawartha Lakes to benefit from the social and physical benefits of athletics.
Brad Gibbs – As a founding member of the non-profit summer camp Kawartha Lakes Hockey, Brad has helped to create a summer hockey camp that gives back to the campers, as well as one that facilitates sponsorships for those who otherwise couldn’t attend. Last year the program reinvested over $10,000 in proceeds back to local hockey clubs to cover tournament fees, while raising close to $23,000 in food drive donations for Kawartha Lakes Food Source. Known as “Gibby,” his positive reach extends beyond hockey, and into his passion for rugby where his infectious spirit has grown the youth program exponentially over the past couple years, beyond levels seen pre-COVID.
Michlynne Short – After her daughter took an interest in Ops baseball, Michlynne Short sought out female fast pitch options in the area but couldn’t find anything. With the help of others, she re-established the Kawartha Lakers Fastpitch organization as part of the central east women’s fastball league, which was last around in 2018. Typically fielding one or two teams a season, the club is seeing a surge in growth and support for families looking for a sports option for their kids. They expect to field four teams in the 2023/24 season. This sports influencer and Lindsay resident has created a healthy activity for dozens of local youths, and it seems to only be growing.
Terry Foster – Terry Foster’s philanthropic efforts have been nothing short of remarkable, earning him well-deserved recognition and accolades during his many years of fundraising for local causes. In 2021, his outstanding contributions to the community were celebrated when he was named Citizen of the Year through the Lindsay + District Chamber of Commerce. This year was his 38th annual walk for Cystic Fibrosis. He has raised more than $202,000 for the cause. This month (September, 2023) will be his 37th time in the Terry Fox run. So far, he has raised $194,000 for this cause. Foster has also completed the Multiple Sclerosis walk for 25 years. In total, he has completed 123 walks in 38 years. A compassionate resident of Lindsay, Foster has become a shining beacon of hope for charitable causes.
Wanda Percival – A former teacher, vice principal and principal at I.E. Weldon and L.C.V.I., Wanda Percival is shining proof of what a retirement full of compassion and dedication to community can look like. She chairs the Kawartha Lakes police services board and the Ross Memorial Hospital’s board of governors, takes on a wide range of tasks at Cambridge Street United Church, volunteers with the Ontario College of Teachers and has long been part of the dedicated group behind the Dream Ball in support of bgc Kawartha Lakes . . . and those are just the higher profile of her roles. This tremendously capable leader does it all with keen intelligence and insight coupled with good humour and — there’s just no other word for it — class.
Rylee Rae – Rylee Rae is dedicated to providing a safe and welcoming space for all LGBTQ+ people and their allies in and around Kawartha Lakes with a local based pride organization. As executive director of Kawartha Lakes Pride, this influencer is making sure the community is more inclusive with every event they host, from Pride Week in July, Pride After Dark, to all ages Drag Queen Story Time and sharing helpful resources on their Facebook page. The organization also participates in Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity initiatives in schools and workplaces in the area. Rae and the organizations volunteers are continuing to build strong and accessible support systems within the area with a partnership with Feeding Fenelon, a not-for-profit organization committed to combating food insecurity.