Man killed was former Winnipeg Ballet principal dancer, rights advocate

Richard Rutherford was 87 and ill when he was killed in the Smyth Road home he shared with his partner on Friday.

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The former principal dancer of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet — a man who helped establish Ottawa’s human rights monument — is the victim of the city’s latest homicide.

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Richard Rutherford was 87 and ill when he was killed in the Smyth Road home he shared with his partner on Friday.

Police responded to the scene on Smyth Road between Haig and Saunderson Drive around 3 p.m.

The Smyth Road house that Richard Rutherford shared with her husband.  Rutherford was killed Friday at home.  ASHLEY FRASER, POSTMEDIA
The Smyth Road house that Richard Rutherford shared with her husband. Rutherford was killed Friday at home. ASHLEY FRASER, POSTMEDIA

An Ottawa man, Philippe Hebert, 69, of Ottawa, has been charged with second degree murder. He appeared in court on Saturday morning and was taken into custody.

Born in the southern United States, Richard Rutherford was part of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet for two decades, starting in the corps de ballet in 1957 and rising to the ranks of soloist and principal dancer. He retired from the stage in 1970 and was appointed associate artistic director of the ballet company.

File photo shows Richard Rutherford, right, former principal dancer of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, performing with Rachel Browne during the RWB's 1960-61 season.
File photo shows Richard Rutherford, right, former principal dancer of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, performing with Rachel Browne during the RWB’s 1960-61 season. .jpg
A file photo from October 1968 shows Richard Rutherford performing with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet at Meadow Lark.  Photo by Martha Swope, posted on the Winnipeg Centennial Concert Hall Facebook page.
A file photo from October 1968 shows Richard Rutherford performing with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet at Meadow Lark. Photo by Martha Swope, posted on the Winnipeg Centennial Concert Hall Facebook page. Photo by Martha Swope /.jpg
A file profile photo of Richard Rutherford, former principal dancer of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.  Photo by Ballet Connections.
A file profile photo of Richard Rutherford, former principal dancer of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Photo by Ballet Connections. Photo by Ballet Connections /.jpg

Rutherford moved to Ottawa in 1977 and joined the staff of the Canada Council for the Arts, where he was responsible for awarding individual grants to promising Canadian dancers.

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Neighbors were stunned to learn of his passing.

“Richard was a very helpful and cheerful person,” said his longtime neighbor Charles Wendt. “It’s all so tragic.”

Rutherford was a gifted and dedicated gardener, he said, and spring was his favorite time of year. “Whenever we had friends in town, we would take them out and show them Richard’s garden because it was always so beautiful,” Wendt said.

In recent years, he said, Rutherford’s health had begun to deteriorate and he had difficulty walking up and down the stairs of his two-story house.

Wendt said he was being cared for by his partner, a former employee of The Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre. “They were a lovely couple who always helped each other,” he said.

Wendt returned home Friday afternoon to find police cars in his neighbor’s driveway and a police tape surrounding the house, which was generously decorated with Easter eggs. An Easter bunny was still visible in the window on Saturday.

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Wendt said he found it hard to believe a homicide had taken place next door.

“It was a shock, a total shock,” he said.

After retiring from the Canada Council for the Arts, Rutherford served as Chairman of the Board of the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights. The Human Rights Monument is now located at the corner of Lisgar and Elgin streets.

In a December 2010 letter to the Ottawa Citizen, Rutherford defended the controversial design of the red granite and concrete monument and said it was created to remind Canadians of everyone’s desire to live in freedom and dignity.

“The lack of human rights is as hard as cement and as cold as a slab of granite,” he wrote. “The monument is not meant to lull you into complacency and good feelings, but to remind you of the atrocities we have committed and the need to correct our behaviors.”

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In an interview after retiring at the age of 71, Rutherford said his interest in dance began when he was in third grade with a teacher who regularly asked students to improvise moves to music. “I seemed to take an interest in it and my teacher encouraged me, so I enjoyed it more and more,” he recalls.

He began studying dance while in high school in Raleigh, North Carolina, and went on to study at the School of American Ballet in New York.

Rutherford said he had no idea where Winnipeg was ‘and really didn’t care’ when he was offered a job as a professional dancer by the director of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in 1957.

“I just knew I was going to dance and that was all that mattered at the time,” he said. Rutherford was promoted to principal dancer two years later.

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The work was physically demanding, with 90 minutes of instruction each morning and six hours of rehearsals each day. Rutherford said he also does 200 push-ups a day to build muscle in his chest and arms.

He traveled from Flin Flon, Manitoba to Moscow with the ballet company, and during the summers he performed in theater companies and on television. His favorite roles, he said, were those that required acting.

“I liked being a character rather than just pure dancing,” he told a Ballet Connections interviewer. “I’ve killed myself twice and stabbed a man in the back on his wedding day and done a lot of stupid things, but when the curtain came down I didn’t have to pay the consequences .”

Rutherford said he had to give up his dancing career due to relentless pain in his feet and back.

“My career as a dancer was not long, but very rewarding, and I’m very grateful to have been a dancer,” he said.

In a review published in August 1967, Ralph Hicklin of the Globe and Mail called Rutherford “an enduring star” on the Canadian stage.

“In street clothes,” writes Hicklin, “Rutherford looks deceptively thin and youthful—he won’t argue the question of his age—but he is in fact one of the most technically strong and most successful principal dancers. lasting on the Canadian scene. He dances everything from classical roles to the most modern works.

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