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Charles Belair
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Birth: Apr. 4, 1914
Death: Sep. 7, 2012

BELAIR, Charles Passed away peacefully, with his family at his side, on September 7, 2012, at the age of 98 years. Beloved husband of Keiko (Hayashi) for 42 years. Loving father of Judith Newall (Terry) of North Vancouver, James of Sarnia, and Miya (Liam MacDonald) of Kitchener. Dear grandfather of Lisa, Michelle, Michael, Akina and Parker, and great-grandfather of Dylan and Rebecca. Predeceased by his first wife Cora (Lackenbauer) and infant brother Leonard. Born in Lynn, Mass., Charles moved to Kitchener at the age of 10 when his father took a job at the Lang Tanning Company. After studying to be a mechanical draftsman at KCI but unable to find work in the field due to The Depression, he turned to his hobby of photography. A professional photographer for 75 years, his peers called him the Karsh of Kitchener. He received numerous awards from the Ontario Photographers Society and the Professional Photographers of Canada. Charles received Kitchener Waterloo Arts Council's Lifetime Achievement Award, the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal, was inducted into the Waterloo County Hall of Fame, and also named a Renison College Senior Fellow. For 65 years Charles was a member of the Rotary Club of Kitchener, which named him a Paul Harris Fellow in recognition of his contribution to international understanding. Of all his accomplishments, Charles was most proud of his family. In recent years he enjoyed watching the animals and birds outside the condo and delighted in his youngest grandchildren. In accordance with Charles' wishes, no flowers please. Memorial donations may be made to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. The Belair family will receive relatives and friends at the Henry Walser Funeral Home, 507 Frederick St., Kitchener (519) 749-8467 on Monday from 7-9 p.m. and Tuesday from 3-5 p.m. The Funeral service for Charles will be held on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 3 p.m. in the Funeral Home Chapel. Cremation to follow with private interment at Woodland Cemetery. Visit for Charles' memorial

Waterloo Region Record, Sept 8, 2012

Photography Legend Dies of a Stroke

Famous for his portraits, Charles Belair, 98, was known for his passion for his work and philanthropy

KITCHENER — The photographer's studio stood across from Grand River Hospital for three decades before closing in 2008 and now the man who was its heart has also passed.

Charles Belair, a photographer with an extraordinary gift for capturing the very soul of his subjects in the lens of his camera, died in hospitalFriday morning after suffering a stroke Aug. 28. He had turned 98 on April 4.

Having shot an estimated 22,200 images, Belair's legacy is unprecedented. As a professional photographer, he was perhaps most famous for his photographs of people, particularly the movers and shakers of Waterloo Region as well as royalty and prime ministers but also generations of ordinary folk who today treasure their Belair portraits as works of art.

When he retired early in 2007, Belair told a Record reporter, "At 92 years of age, it's about time." He was a man who thoroughly enjoyed his life and even after decades of photography, he never grew tired of holding the lens to his eye, searching for the perfect shot, of people, of events and even locally made fine furniture, wherever his talents were needed.

"One of his favourite lines was the ‘it never seemed like a job to me,' " said son Jim Belair.

Charles Belair was born in Massachusetts and came to Kitchener with his parents as a child after his father landed a job at the Lang Tanning Company. He was introduced to photography by his insightful parents who provided the first camera. His first gig was photographing the year book for Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate, his alma mater and though he planned for a career in drafting, the Great Depression meant there were few jobs so Belair turned to his first passion, photography.

As a fledgling photographer he opened a modest studio in a Kitchener apartment and after a year he moved to an old building, across from Kitchener City Hall where he stayed for nearly 40 years. Not quite ready to retire even after four decades, Belair moved again, this time to a building he purchased across from the hospital where he ran a studio until finally retiring after a remarkable 75 year career. The King Street studio was often referred to as a museum, filled with images recounting local history and he also made much of his own equipment in his well equipped workshop.

In an interview on his retirement, Belair recalled highlights of his career, photographing Canada's 10th prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King when the prime minister returned to his hometown of Kitchener for a visit. He also shot the Emperor of Japan during Expo 1970 in Japan and King George VI during a 1939 royal visit.

In is personal life, Belair was married to Cora Lackenbauer for 15 years until she died, leaving him with two children, Judi (Newall) and Jim, who now live in Vancouver and Sarnia respectively. Belair later married Keiko Belair, whom he met in Japan and married in 1970 when he was a 56 year old, long time widower. The couple had a daughter, Miya who lives in Kitchener.

Together, the Belairs become generous community leaders and benefactors, donating $500,000 to Renison University College in 2007, the largest financial gift given to the University of Waterloo's college. The money was used to establish the Keiko and Charles Belair Centre for East Asian Studies. In 2000 Belair had been made Honourary Senior Fellow by Renison for his contribution to the community.

Caroline Tanswell, Renison's director of development, was good friends with the couple, people she described as strong, kind and community minded. Charles she said "had an amazing career," and that he was so engaged with life. He was, she said, "still alert and aware and involved ... and the man was 98 years old."

In 1982, Belair was awarded Rotary International's Paul Harris Award followed by the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002. In 2003 he was granted a K-W Arts Award for lifetime achievement and in 2008 the great photographer was invested into the Waterloo Region hall of fame.

Ed Fowler, past president of Rotary Club of Kitchener, remembered Belair as "always razor sharp and witty" and a man with a good attitude about life. He also said that as a couple, the Belairs helped establish a relationship with the Rotary Club in Mikuni, Japan, a relationship that remains strong today with both clubs hosting visiting members and engaging in student exchanges. "He had an international flair."


Editorial, WATERLOO REGION RECORD, September 8, 2012

A photographer and artist

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the 22,000 photographic images taken by Kitchener's Charles Belair over an extraordinary 75-year career deserve their own library.

Belair, who died this week aged 98, was a master at taking photographs that uncovered and captured the essence of royalty and prime ministers as well as business and industrial leaders in Waterloo Region. He was compared, and favourably, to the great Canadian portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh. When Belair finally retired at the age of 92 he cited as his career highlights the photographing of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, King George VI during his 1939 royal visit and, in 1970, the Emperor of Japan, all subjects Karsh would have relished.

A philanthropist as well as an award-winning photographer, Belair and his wife Keiko Belair donated $500,000 to Renison University College in 2007, the largest financial donation given to the University of Waterloo college.

Yet, as community minded as he was, Belair's greatest gift to this community was in using his camera lens to create images, marked by clarity and elegance, of generations of ordinary people in Waterloo Region. His life is over. His pictures will be cherished as special moments in time for years to come.




For more than 70 years, Charles Belair, the dean of photography in Kitchener-Waterloo, created more than 22,200 images of people, including prime ministers and multiple generations of local families. He also photographed several thousand locally-produced products leaving a pictorial record of the history of this community.

Born in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1914, Belair moved to Kitchener with his mother in the early 1920s to join his father who had immigrated here to take a job at the Lang Tanning Company.

Belair completed his primary education in Kitchener and then attended Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate and Vocational School in the technical program where he specialized in drafting. It was at KWC&VS that he began taking pictures for The Grumbler, the school year book.

Unable to find a drafting job, Belair worked for a local photographer and bought the business in 1939, the same year his photograph of the Royal visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth made the front page of the Kitchener Daily Record.

In 1982, Belair was named a Paul Harris Fellow by the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International. In 2000, Belair was named an Honourary Senior Fellow by Renison College, University of Waterloo for his contribution to the community.

In 2002, Belair was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal, as well as the K-W Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement recognizing his contribution to the cultural vitality of Waterloo Region.

A member of the Kitchener Rotary Club for more than 60 years, in 2007 Belair and his wife Keiko established the Keiko and Charles Belair Centre for East Asian Studies at Renison College, University of Waterloo.

Family links: 
  Cora Lackenbauer Belair (1914 - 1957)
Woodland Cemetery
Waterloo Regional Municipality
Ontario, Canada
Created by: Allan Dettweiler
Record added: Sep 09, 2012
Find A Grave Memorial# 96774325
Charles Belair
Added by: Allan Dettweiler
Charles Belair
Added by: Allan Dettweiler
Charles Belair
Cemetery Photo
Added by: Margaret C Cowles
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- Lance
 Added: Mar. 5, 2013

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