Fringe performers score Rhodes scholarships

What do Bill Clinton, Kris Kristofferson and Thomas Toles have in common ?

They are all recipients of Rhodes scholarships.

This prestigious endowment is awarded annually to some of the world’s brightest scholars, and local student Thomas Toles was awarded one at the end of November.

The scholarship was set up by Cecil Rhodes in 1902 when provisions in his will provided a substantial fund to allow for some of the world’s keenest minds to further their studies at Oxford, what was then and arguably still is the world’s finest university.

Thomas, the son of University of Manitoba film professor George Toles and author Melissa Steele, grew up and lives on Jessie Avenue and graduated from Grant Park High School before going to the U of M where he is currently in his fourth year of a double honours BA in English and psychology.

This may be his finest scholarship so far but it’s not his only one. Thomas has also won an Isbister scholarship in arts, an Aikins scholarship in literature and the Victor Cowie scholarship in performing arts.

Thomas Toles on stage

Thomas Toles on stage

It’s in performing arts where Thomas has been very active having had numerous roles with the Black Hole Theatre group; not just as an actor but also as a director. He has performed at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival where his play “Orphans” was chosen by CBC as their favourite local production and he has also been featured in film with a role in Guy Maddin’s “Hauntings”.

You can catch Thomas in his latest thespian endeavour as he performs in the Black Hole Theatre production of “The Cripple of Inishmaan” that runs from January 15 – 26 in the University College building on the U of M Fort Garry campus.

Thomas Toles Rhodes Scholar

Thomas Toles, Rhodes Scholar

He expects to commence his scholarship next September as he takes up residence in Oxford where he plans to further his studies in both English and film aesthetics.

When asked the reason for his academic success Thomas told me it was due to a combination of a strong family support group and good time management skills which allowed him to divide his time equally between his academic studies, his love of theatre and his friends and social circle.

Three Rhodes scholarships were awarded to the Canadian prairie region this year with Thomas being the only Manitoba recipient; the other two winners were Alberta students.

Yet Thomas is not Winnipeg’s only Rhodes Scholar. Tara Paterson was awarded the scholarship designated for British Columbia. Though she has elected to study at the University of Victoria, Tara is a Winnipeg girl, the daughter of long time Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre associate artistic director Robb Paterson and his wife Heather.

Tara, like Thomas, also has a passion for theatre and she’s performed in a couple of plays at the Winnipeg Fringe as well, including her one woman play “Dying to be thin” that garnered rave reviews a few years ago.

As they head off to Oxford next year, Thomas and Tara will be following in the footsteps of world leaders, former provincial premiers Danny Williams and Bob Rae, as well as former Prime Minister John Turner who were all Rhodes scholars. And no doubt whilst there, they’ll be rubbing shoulders with leaders of the future.

The Rhodes trust will not only grant admission to Oxford University, but also pay for all their tuition fees, travel expenses from Canada and living expenses during their time in England. That’s an estimated value of $100,000. It’s a great opportunity at what must be a very exciting stage of their lives.

And maybe the secret to winning a Rhodes scholarship is that you have to excel at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival first.

Trevor Smith


Trevor Smith is an engineering technologist at the University of Manitoba and a local community journalist in Winnipeg MB.