T-Bo was truly an original

by Brent Reaney

EDGE YK Online

April 16, 2014

I’ll be clear off the top that this is not an obituary. It’s a reflective post based on my memories and experiences with Francois Thibault, AKA T-Bo. I don’t know the story of his final days or more than most people did about the artist’s personal life. T-Bo died recently and, as the publisher of this magazine, I regret not working harder to have someone interview him. We also wanted to ask him to write his own story, but weren’t able to connect before he passed away. I’ll never forget when he told me he was dying. I’d emailed to see if he wanted to make changes to the ad for his jewellery shop in the April/May issue, and he called me back right away. “We might have to change the plan for this one,” he said in his usual raspy voice, but sounding as if he had a cold. “I’m dying.”

I’d never spoken with anyone who knew they had a short time to live and didn’t know what to say. But over the course of the next 10 minutes – in between sharing intimate details like the cancer was now pushing up against his eyeballs – somehow he made me feel almost good about what was going to happen. He told me he was in a terrible ATV accident in Norman Wells in the early 1980s and had been given a second chance at life since recovering. He told me this was life and he’d had a great one.

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Somehow, he said, everything seemed to be working itself out. He was getting paid for the sculpture he’d created in front of City Hall, he’d had some money come through to pay off his trailer and he was planning to head to Nova Scotia with his lady to spend his final days in peace and comfort. And then he read me this quote he wrote for his final ad: “As artists, we spend our lives studying, performing and creating works to leave for people to enjoy as mementos of our time here on Earth. We pursue these goals and dreams in hopes that by creating, lives may become more colourful and perhaps more meaningful. Your contributions to these projects are always appreciated and will be for generations to come. Without your participation, all artists’ goals would remain unfulfilled.”

When I worked as a reporter at the Yellowknifer, people would often walk in to let us know they had story ideas. As someone who’d just moved to Yellowknife, I soon learned these drop-in people often brought with them the very best and worst of ideas and intentions. The process went such that people, usually pissed about some sort of traffic problem or pothole on their street, would come to the front desk and ask to speak to an editor, who would then pass them along to the newest reporter.

In June of 2005, this was how I met Francois Thibault. Basically, he had an idea to turn seven 64-foot high solid steel storage tanks out at the Giant Mine site into buildings or an arts centre in downtown Yellowknife. As of June 30, the tanks would be publicly owned by the federal and territorial government and T-Bo saw an opportunity to benefit his community. “They’ll never be able to build a building with this amount of square footage for the money they’re going to get for them,” he told me at the time while listing off a half dozen community groups which could use the space. I wanted to post the photo I took of T-Bo looking over his shoulder and holding his hands up to frame the Giant bins, but the link to it was broken in the NNSL archives.

For someone like me, in love with ideas and interested in the arts and other pursuits which rarely made economic sense, T-Bo has been an amazing resource. Here was a guy who was working as a full-time artist while always thinking of ways to contribute to his community, generous with his time, and happy to support art and artists however he could. And for all of his petitioning and conspiracy theories, he largely seemed happy.

He was also an early and staunch supporter of EDGE YK magazine. During our first two years, more than once he asked how things were going. I’d confess I was tired and not sure the effort was worth it, but he quickly assured me that it was and that things would get easier, which they have. And while we have a lot of great advertising clients, T-Bo is the only person who’s ever paid up front for a year’s worth of space. I remember trying to refuse his offer, telling him I wasn’t certain the magazine would be around in a year. He looked at me, shrugged and said “Dude, do you need the money or not?”

The man loved to talk and didn’t always sense (or care) whether you had other things to do. He was also the type of guy who shared opinions and comments on Facebook as if nobody was reading. Like the turning of industrial containers into an arts centre, his ideas were almost always huge and, at first glance, usually seemed impossible to achieve. That said, through his art and his energy, he executed far more than most.

For our wedding, he created an original design using a combination of my wife’s and my fingerprints on a white gold band with the world’s oldest rock as a setting. We were the first couple he did this for, and he tried at least four different ways of creating molds and casting before getting the process right. After each attempt, he’d give detailed accounts of what went wrong and how he would fix it. More than once, he told us how much he loved the challenge. He also told us the rings were guaranteed for as long as he was alive. We love them, but last year my stone fell out, and with his passing, I think the tiny cavity will remain empty.

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