The Chemainus Salish Welcome Arch to eventually be placed at Waterwheel Park is being hailed as much more than just a permanent piece of outdoor public art.
The significance of the project has been described as an opportunity to bridge cultural divides in a strong step toward reconciliation and to revitalize the local economy.
The design of the piece is being done by Penelakut artist Maynard Johnny Jr. It will consist of five-metre cylindrical supporting metallic columns, incorporating a salmon theme, and the inside of the plastic tubing will be illuminated by LED lights. Regarded as the sentinel of the coast, the Great Blue heron will be the theme attached to the horizontal portion of the arch.
“We offered to take on the project because we felt we had experience with managing this type of project and we had a connection with Maynard through his mural, Rebirth,” said Tom Andrews, president of the Chemainus Festival of Murals Society.
“It’s the columns that are unbelievable,” confided Shannon Bellamy, a member of the society’s board of directors. “It’s a curved form and there’s clear spaces in between the salmon images. The two columns light up at night.”
The archway proposal has actually long been in the works, but funding is coming together suddenly with the acceptance of a $50,000 grant from Island Coastal Economic Trust’s Community Placemaking program.
The murals society is contributing $20,000 and spearheaded the application for the successful ICET grant that accounts for a large portion of the total cost. Another $35,000 is being donated in-kind by the Municipality of North Cowichan for expenses associated with erecting the piece and securing the site while the Rotary Club of Chemainus and the Chemainus Valley Cultural Arts Society are providing $5,000 apiece. The Chemainus Legion, Chemainus Valley Museum and other groups were key players in the grant application.
The project’s total cost is earmarked at $125,000.
“We still have to raise $10,000,” said Andrews.
“There’s a plan in place,” added Bellamy.
Terms of the grant still need to be worked out before the additional funding is finalized.
“This has been a real community effort towards reconciliation and economic rebuilding, utilizing a diversity of local capacity,” noted Andrews. “The installation of the public art piece on the historic village site symbolically allows Penelakut Tribe to take a step in reclaiming their cultural history.”
“We are honoured to support this inspiring project that breathes life into continuing reconciliation among Penelakut people and residents of Chemainus,” said Island Coastal Economic Trust CEO Brodie Guy in a statement. “This not only showcases the creativity and artistic talent within this community, but it also serves as a great example of collaboration, the deepening of good relations and wider understanding of unique histories.”
Hints about the pending project were dropped during an interview conducted in the summer of 2021 with Johnny Jr. by Jonny Harris for the Still Standing CBC-TV program.
The deterioration of the previous wooden arch at the same site in Waterwheel Park provided an opportunity to install a spectacular new replacement arch that better represents the community and marks a new partnership with the Penelakut Tribe, Andrews indicated.
“Our community has historically limited First Nation involvement in the creation of our murals. It is well past time to set a new direction and we hope this project is a catalyst for future projects.”
The $50,000 grant is supported through a collaborative funding arrangement between the Island Coastal Economic Trust and the Targeted Regional Tourism Development Initiative through 4VI. The Community Placemaking program provides funding support of project costs to stimulate and promote vitality in downtowns, main streets and business districts across the region.
“We continue to support the efforts of placemaking and place branding in the Vancouver Island region,” said 4VI President and CEO Anthony Everett in a statement. “As a social enterprise with a mission to ensure that travel is a force for good for Vancouver Island, we work with community-led projects to enhance the livability and character of our Island communities.”
This is a perfect fit for Chemainus considering the pandemic resulted in a substantial reduction in visits for a tourist town that draws national and international visitors to see its outdoor murals and sculptures. The new arch will become part of the Community Series.
Former North Cowichan parks and recreation director Don Stewart helped coordinate the original effort to put together a community team, with the First Nations committee of the Chemainus Valley Cultural Arts Society taking the lead.
“Then we were approached,” said Bellamy. “Of course, we’ve managed big projects before.”
The labyrinth in Waterwheel Park, the In Search of Snipes statues in Heritage Square and the Chemainus Theatre mural have been the larger enterprises taken on by the murals society.
There’s no timeline for completion of the project with a lot of groundwork still to be done. “I don’t see it going up until the fall,” conceded Andrews.
It’s hoped the completion might work out to coincide with National Indigenous Peoples Day in September of 2023.