At age 10, Kenneth Montague knew he was going to be a dentist. On annual visits to Jamaica, he took a keen interest in the work of his cousin – dental surgeon Dr. Maxwell Timoll – who is based in Mandeville.
“He is established in his profession and he has a great sense of community,” recalled Dr. Montague. “Patients offer him fruits in return for teeth extractions and that’s alright with him. He accepts the fruit and then takes out the tooth. I was the little kid that said that was what I wanted to do.”
A dentist since 1987, Montague opened Word of Mouth Dentistry five years later with a team of three employees. Located on Bathurst St. near Bloor St. W., the staff has grown to 20 and clients include Canadian singer, songwriter and actress Nelly Furtado and New Zealand-born actor, film producer and musician Russell Crowe.
A University of Toronto graduate and former Ontario Dental Association communication and public education chair, Montague co-founded the Coloured Development Fund which is a scholarship program for young art and design achievers and he’s always eager to share his clinical knowledge and skills with young people.
For the past two decades, he has mentored youth in the University of Toronto Summer Mentorship Program for Black and Aboriginal students. The program was designed to provide a focus for students with both an interest and aptitude for the sciences and particularly for those who otherwise would not have available mentorship opportunities.
“In addition to his academic brilliance, Ken is humble, caring and compassionate,” said Diana Alli, a retired senior officer in the U of T Faculty of Medicine who co-founded the mentorship program. “He ensures the kids enjoy the experience by taking them to lunch and sitting down with them afterwards to watch the Oprah Winfrey Show. He wants them to see the human side of mentoring.”
A member of the Association for the Advancement of Blacks in Health Sciences, Montague is also an art collector and curator. He directs Wedge Curatorial Projects which is a non-profit organization that promotes a deeper understanding of communities by presenting perspectives that explore themes of African-Canadian and Diasporic identity and representation.
“I was fortunate to have parents who were art lovers and they took their three children to galleries and art events,” said Windsor-born Montague who opened his home as a gallery space in 1997 when he lived in a loft near Susan Hobbs Gallery at Queen St. W. and Bathurst St. “We went to the Detroit Institute of Arts which has one of the most significant art collections in the United States, the Henry Ford Museum and the North American Black Historical Museum in Amherstburg.
“In fact, my first job was working at that Historical Museum and learning about the history of the Underground Railroad. That was something that was very important to my parents. When I was in high school, I volunteered as a tour guide at that museum. Those experiences stayed with me – the love of galleries, museums and appreciating the images of our people on a wall, in a photograph or in a painting. You want to have a longer relationship with those images as you get older, so you become an art collector.”
Montague, who sits on the Ryerson Image Centre advisory board and the Tate Modern Africa Acquisitions Committee, was the recipient of a Black Business & Professional Association Man of Honour Award presented last week.
“I am quite honoured to be singled out by my community,” he said. “We are nothing as a people without each other.”
A frequent panellist at international art symposiums, Montague has lectured on photography at The Studio Museum in Harlem, the first American museum of its kind devoted to the work of 19th and 20th Century African-Americans artists, and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Portugal.