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Penetang couple 'saddened' after complaint forces folk art removal

'We're not happy ... Any future sales will have to be done online as we are no longer displaying our art,' says frustrated artist

A Penetanguishene couple is saddened that someone has complained to the town about the folk art displayed on their lawn.

“We’re not happy,” says Jim Duguay, who, along with his wife Elizabeth, sells and gives away pieces of repurposed painted furniture and wood that would likely otherwise end up in the landfill under their hobby business Dragonfly Unlimited.

Duguay tells Village Media that they’re recycling old furniture and pieces of board that people no longer want so it’s good for the environment by ensuring fewer things end up being thrown away as garbage.

“I barely cover my costs and a lot of what I do goes to charity,” Duguay says, noting local organizations will often ask for one of his pieces to feature in raffles and as auction items.

Besides art and repurposed furniture, Duguay also creates murals and barn quilts and also paints bureaus and other furniture with specific themes such as sports or in the case of one child, who loved Volkswagens and was in SickKids, a dresser and side table featuring car themes.

“Before COVID, we had our stuff out and there was not a problem,” says Duguay.

But that changed a few years ago as Duguay recalls how the town sent a “young lad” who told them there had been a couple of complaints about their lawn display.

“He told us, ‘you have to get this shit off the lawn,’” Duguay says. “It just sucks. We’re keeping a lot of stuff from going to the dump.”

According to the recent notice sent from municipal law enforcement officer Chris Smith, the Duguays are violating zoning bylaw 2022-17.

“Where a home occupation is permitted, the following provisions shall apply: No outdoor storage or display of materials, equipment, wares or merchandise is permitted,” the letter signed by Smith reads, adding that the Duguays have until May 3 to comply with the order.

After Village Media contacted the town for a further explanation, Penetanguishene communications and technology co-ordinator Sarah Marshall​​​​ provided a response from the bylaw department that further reiterated what was written in Smith’s letter to the Duguays.

“We will not comment on how many complaints were received for a specific property,” the email from the town to Village Media reads. “However, it only takes one to prompt action should an infraction be found.”

The house is zoned commercial-residential, according to Duguay, who notes its close proximity to the Main Street and the fact it housed other businesses in the past. He also adds that other apparent "eyesores" can be found throughout the town, something he notices while taking walks with his dog.

“I’m not picking on anyone, but there’s a ‘72 pickup truck sitting on blocks and three Ski-Doos that are not ever going to run again,” he says.

As well, he notes that their business draws people from out-of-town, who might stick around the area after picking up an item or two to have a meal at one of the local restaurants or shop at one of the town’s stores.

“We’ve had people come up all the way from St. Catharines,” he points out.

Duguay, who is 60 and on the Ontario Disability Support Program due to serious leg issues, says he’s always operated above-board and declares any income he receives from their venture to the government.

“We appreciate those who have supported us,” Duguay notes. “We had a good run for a non-business/hobby. Any future sales will have to be done online as we are no longer displaying our art.

“It saddens us deeply to have to change in this way. Unfortunately, we will no longer be in a position to donate any furniture, or signs to the local charities. This was never a business, just a glorified hobby. We did the best we could.”

And the couple has found support on their social media account.

“It was always a pleasure to see your art and what was new. So sad that it affected some Karen and felt the need to complain,” Sarah Deanne Tizzard writes.

“Eyesore... really? I can think of many other things that are eyesore way more than the beautiful colours of your beautiful creations.”

Adds Carol Pollock: “It’s disgusting what the town is doing to you guys. It’s infuriating actually. So sorry to hear about this.”

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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country’s most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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