by This is Manitoulin staff
Some communities embrace the concept of large, wall-sized artwork, murals, while for other towns, the idea is a non-starter.
Nearby Sudbury hosts its annual “Up Here Festival” and invites muralists to tell their stories on the large canvases that the walls of buildings provide. In fact, a redundant hospital complex there has been muralized in an epic way. On Vancouver Island, the town of Chemainus has purposely made itself a tourist attraction because of the large pieces of artwork that can be seen everywhere.
On Manitoulin, the idea of murals has been an organic one with these large works of art appearing in our various communities independently and motivated by a variety of inspirations.
But we have them and they’re wonderful opportunities to “put yourself in the picture” with a selfie posed in front of each of them; a mini tour.
Here’s what you can find, and where.
We’ll start our mural tour with the North Channel towns of Little Current, Kagawong and Gore Bay, respectively.
The town of Little Current boasts two murals, each quite different from the other and each located in the downtown business area.
Canada Post has renovated the Little Current Post Office as a concept space, one of two such projects nationally. (The other is in Saskatchewan.)
The federal Crown Corporation determined to renovate and decorate its space, inside and out, with a nod to the well-established Woodland School of First Nations art which thrives on Manitoulin Island.
In its research, Canada Post approached the owner/curator of Spring Bay’s Perivale Gallery, Sharon McMullen, for advice and Ms. McMullan wisely presented some of the works of Duncan Pheasant for consideration. As it turns out, Duncan Pheasant is an Indigenous artist who happens to live in Little Current so when two of his pieces were chosen for the concept renovation, it was a nice fit.
On the front of the downtown waterfront building, one of Mr. Pheasant’s landscapes is presented in large format and inside the building, a large canvas in the recognizable Woodland Art mode is prominently hung. Mr. Pheasant has titled the outside piece “We are the land” and says, “the land has spirit, and we are the land.”
Just around the corner on Worthington Street/ Gore Bay highway, is Little Current’s second offering: a very large piece of artwork presented on a retaining wall that supports an unusual elevated street.
This mural has been in place since Canada’s 150th birthday and celebrates the long history of the community with landmarks colourfully illustrated.
Taking Highway 540 west to the village of Kagawong, styled as “Ontario’s Prettiest Town” for good reason, that community’s mural can be found decorating a very large fly wheel that is set on its pedestal on the waterfront in front of the Old Mill building that has been repurposed to house the municipal offices, the town’s museum and, upstairs, an art gallery (Edwards Studios).
There is another nice coincidence here, similar to a Little Current artist’s work being chosen for a Little Current installation.
Responding to a call for proposals to re-define the community through the images on the flywheel, sister and brother artists and designers Kendra and Morgan Edwards’ proposal was chosen in competition and they are the children of the aforementioned couple who operate the nearby Edwards Studios.
The newly muralized flywheel at the Kagawong waterfront, with the historic old mill in the background, is a great place to help memorialize your Island holiday as this couple, visiting from Northwestern Ontario, did last summer.
The mural’s dominant feature is the Kagawong lighthouse which a visitor can find on the main street across from the Austin H. Hunt Marina. The LaCloche Mountains, on the North side of the North Channel (and visible from the Kagawong waterfront), are represented by the blue horizontal element.
The Kagawong installation is also a waterfront attraction and is situated close to the downtown sandy beach and children’s play area, as well as to the interesting museum.
Twenty kilometres further along Highway 540 brings you to Gore Bay and another downtown installation. It is large, approximately 23 feet by 40 feet.
It too is an historical perspective, primarily of the town’s business and institutional community buildings over the last half of the twentieth century.
The work was completed in 2019 by Marcus Mohr and is an enormous recreation of a collage painting done by the late Gore Bay artist Jack Whyte.
The collage is readily visible from the main street, and is presented on a high, wide wall that is conveniently accessed by a pathway that leads to the municipal office and library complex and also runs beside the historic Gore Bay Town Hall, home of the famed Gore Bay Summer Theatre.
The next stop on this mural tour can be Providence Bay, a straight shot south from Gore Bay via Highway 542, a community located on Manitoulin Island’s Lake Huron shoreline.
This south shore community’s mural is by far the largest and takes up the entire side and front walls of the Mutchmor Gallery.
When the building was repurposed from a hardware and building supply emporium to an art gallery, Peace Café and loft rental accommodations, the owners decided to enhance their property’s “destination” status by commissioning an epic work of art on the building’s long side wall.
The Mutchmor Gallery owners encountered the mural firm Essencia working on a very large piece in Toronto and were so taken by their work that they asked the company to come to Manitoulin and give their property, and Providence Bay, a new landmark.
The result is a mural that is dominated by an enormous bear’s face looking out at Mutchmor Street with a colourful hawk on the fly keeping him/her company. There is lots more going on as well but the mural, and the community, are well worth a visit.
And now to Manitowaning, again in the downtown area, specifically to the Debajehmijig Storytellers Queen Street location and its neighbouring building.
The building houses a versatile theatre space and, when it was conceived and built, a large garage-type door was fitted to the theatre’s street side so artists’ work can spill outside the black box space and into the community.
The mural on this large door is the work of Barry Beaver, a Cree artist from Wabasca First Nation and a former Debajehmujig artist-in-residence.
The work depicts the battle of the thunderbird and the lake monster and the muralist’s work also adorns wall panels on the neighbouring residence.
Besides housing the theatre group, the Debajehmujig building also is home to the Kathleen Mastin Art Gallery.
These outdoor installations are each unique and were put in their places at different times and for reasons unique to each one of them.
A tour of them all, like the lighthouses of Manitoulin (the accessible ones) is a good reason to take to the roads and enjoy the scenery on the way from destination to destination.