Story and Photo by Kim Latimer

Louise Thomas, owner of the Ahnisnabae Art Gallery, is a woman of fortitude and perseverance. When her husband, Woodland artist Roy Thomas, lost his life to cancer in 2004, she honoured his legacy by continuing to operate their gallery at its old location in Westfort. Despite two recent moves, it remains the only First Nation-owned and operated gallery in Thunder Bay.

For Thomas, the gallery means survival: “It put a roof over our heads and food on the table,” she says. She was at the old location for 15 years, while she single-handedly raised her twin boys. However, when the James Street swing bridge was damaged by fire and closed in October 2013, it had a direct impact—her gallery was just a stone’s throw away.

“It really affected my business and it took me a long time to decide to leave,” she says. The gallery had been her husband’s former studio space. “It was heartbreaking to move from there. I did my own little ceremony. It was the space of the spirit of Roy, and it took everything I had in me to leave.”

Persevering once again, last February she decided to temporarily relocate the gallery to a shared space on Red River Road. Her sons helped her make the move. “Even the weather made it difficult to move,” she says. “It took me two months to pack all of the art and it was so cold, minus 40 that week.”

Still, Thomas craved a gallery of her own, like the one she once had. And so, when she was offered her very own new space at 18 South Court Street (the former home of Locomotion antique shop), she embraced it. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would get this space. I feel so happy and excited that this is happening,” she says. Her vision for the new space includes internal framing services, a library, and a sitting area for visitors to enjoy coffee and read art books. The grand opening is planned for March.

“I will also have room to host art shows, possibly even an artist in residence. I’d also like to invite artists to paint in the window space,” she says. “I have a lot of faith and belief in what I’m doing and that things will fall into place.”

Ahnisnabae Art Gallery is located at 18 South Court Street, 577-2656.