ASSINIBOIA — Bill Shurniak, founder of the Shurniak Art Gallery in Assiniboia, was a kind, gentle and generous man. Everyone who knew him knows this to be true.
This story is about Bill Shurniak and a part of the legacy he left behind. It's also about a young lady who thought the world of him because of the kindness he showed her and the constant support he was in her life.
"He was like a grandfather to me and the gallery was like my second home," said 23-year-old Jyann Williams, owner/operator of Fresh Start, a quaint little café located in the Shurniak Art Gallery.
Jyann opened Fresh Start in 2014, partly because Bill Shurniak encouraged her to do so. She was just 15 years of age at the time. Jyann hasn't looked back since that eventful day.
Many folks believe that Bill Shurniak — when he passed away suddenly in August of 2020 — left his gallery financially secure for the future.
“This rumour is just not true,” said Gail Mergen, former general manager and curator who has been with the gallery since its beginning in 2005.
In her new role as communications and special projects officer, she explained, “Monies were left in place by Bill to help perpetuate the gallery, but not nearly enough to cover the cost of our annual operations budget and all of the things that the current board [of directors] wants to do in the future. Special projects will mean the need for continual fundraising events, which will be essential to the gallery's survival.”
She added, “We are actively and competitively pursuing grants available to facilities like ours, and are extremely grateful to organizations like SK Arts for their help and support since Bill passed away. We would dearly love for the Shurniak [Gallery] to become the cultural hub of southern Saskatchewan. That was Bill's dream for the gallery.”
The new reality for the Shurniak Art Gallery appears be one of continued competition for a limited number of available grants — and constant fundraisers. Enter, Jyann Williams from Fresh Start. She grew up hanging out at the gallery where her enterprising mother and father worked, and where Bill Shurniak became her hero/mentor of sorts. When he passed away a year and a half ago, Williams saw the gallery struggle to keep its doors open. She dreamed of a way she could help give back some of what Shurniak and the gallery had given her over the years.
No stranger to hard work, long hours and creativity, Williams sprang quickly into action. She is the sole mastermind and creator of a huge upcoming fundraiser, the Blacktop Hop, for the Shurniak Art Gallery.
“Come rain or shine, [this event] is happening,” said Williams. “All proceeds and profits go directly to the gallery,” she confirmed. “The event gets underway at 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 2 in front of the art gallery located at 122 3rd Avenue West in Assiniboia. Gallery tours and art showcases will be featured throughout the afternoon and early evening.”
Tickets for the Blacktop Hop are available at the Shurniak Art Gallery and online. The bar opens at 5 p.m. and supper, catered by Fresh Start, begins at 6 p.m. Supper is included in the cost of admission. Tickets are just $50 for an afternoon and evening of fun, laughter, prizes, raffles, giveaways, supper and dancing in the streets. The music and concert get underway at 8 p.m., featuring Justin Labrash and his band from Lumsden.
Said Mergen, “We have had such a wonderful response from our many sponsors and the community as a whole. We are ever so grateful.”