Each year, an anglophone whose contribution to the region’s francophone culture is outstanding is acknowledged by the Association canadienne-francaise de l’Ontario Prescott-Russell by admitting them to the Prescott-Russell Order of Francophonie of Ontario. This year’s honour went to the late Phil Arber, for his work to embrace francophone culture in the region.
He was known for being bilingual, but also made it a point to add, “Bilingually friendly” to the many promotional efforts associated with the May Show, Wee Irish Fest, the Champlain Commercial Fair and other events he organized.
The award was presented by the Prescott-Russell Association canadienne-francaise de l’Ontario (ACFO).
Arber moved to the Vankleek Hill area in 1972 and as a dealer in antiques, he was known throughout Ontario and Quebec. But in moving to this rural area, settling on McAlpine Farm, his desire to put Vankleek Hill on the map emerged early.
His add-on to the May Show eventually lead to him taking it over and he promoted it as a bilingual event for more than two decades. He also became the organizer of the Christmas Parade of Lights, shifting the afternoon holiday parade to an evening event.
The Horse and Buggy Parade and Strawberry Social event, and the Champlain Commercial Fair, along with the Wee Irish Fest, were all organized under the umbrella of Excellent Events, which he formed in later years and again: all advertising, paperwork and promotion were done bilingually.
Arber is also remembered for his long-time involvement with the Hill Top Horse Show.
Arber’s community efforts include being a co-founding member (along with Aartje Den Boer) of the Vankleek Hill Farmers Market and he joined artists Elisabeth Skelly and Odile Tetu to form the Vankleek Hill Historical Mural Group, which completed two historical murals during two separate summers on the side of the building which now is home to Jade Garden, in addition to “Going To The Fair” on the north wall of the Wagar and Holland building on High Street and the “Community Patchwork Mural”; the latter is currently being re-painted on new panels of plywood before it is reinstalled on the north wall of the building which houses Pink Bow Tie at the town’s main intersection.
Arber also took it on himself to ask Champlain Township to name Vankleek Hill, “The Gingerbread Capital of Ontario”, which it did, thanks to his request.
He also purchased the building which is currently home to Arbor Gallery Cultural Centre – that gallery had its beginnings as Arbor Gallery, managed by artists Elisabeth Skelly and Odile Tetu – and introduced a Saturday evening speaker series during the winter months.
When he purchased 36 Home Avenue, the ruins of the Higginson Tower had come along with it; around 2004, Arber donated a piece of property with the ruins on it to Champlain Township and he was then part of a restoration committee, adding his engineer talents to the mix.
Arber received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013 for his volunteer work in his community and in 2016, he was awarded Champlain Township’s Volunteer Award of Distinction.