The Amazing Murals of Chemainus On Vancouver Island

Sight Seeing

With ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ as a ruling concept, the leaders and townspeople of Chemainus turned what could have been the end of their hometown into a renaissance, and became known as ‘The Little Town That Did’.

The Murals of Chemainus

When you see The Murals of Chemainus you understand what words could not say.  Historically and culturally they tell us the tale of the townspeople and the town and speak to us of their survivalist spirit.

Wall Murals Are Not New

Wall murals have been around as long as there have been people who could draw: First seen in 30,000 year old prehistoric caves; often used for ceremony in Egypt, Greece, Rome and India, created as religious Tibetan symbols, and as elaborate a variation as Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel, wall murals are not new.

They’ve been used politically in the 1930’s and 40’s as part of The New Deal with the creation of over 2,500 public wall murals, and more modernly used in advertising in the form of billboards. They are a form of personal expression and sometimes protest in the case of graffiti; and yes, it’s even a contemporary and fun way to design the walls of your home.  However, Chemainus utilized this ancient art form differently – to create an economically viable town, on the brink of shut-down.

How the Murals of Chemainus Came to Be

Chemainus, is a coastal town, settled originally by the Coast Salish Natives. A mild climate, many natural resources, and breathtaking views invited a westward immigration of new settlers.  Together these people created Chemainus, a mill town, which was, as most mill towns were, completely economically dependent on the mill.

All was well for more than a century and a half, until 1982, when it was announced that the Town Mill would be closing.  As you can imagine this created significant challenges for these people, but not easily defeated, and unwilling to leave their home, they rallied.

A Chemainus mural by Sandy Clark

A Chemainus mural by Sandy Clark

Revitalization Project

As they were not the only town having difficulty staying afloat, the BC government created ‘community initiative grants’ for towns like Chemainus, to help in developing revitalization projects.

Graham Bruce, the Mayor of Chemainus at the time, in tandem with Karl Schutz, a resident businessman were creative and energetic – they had an idea that would take Chemainus to the forefront as an example for small towns world-wide. Those two men and a group of townsfolk volunteers harnessed their energy and vision and the Festival of Murals Society came into being.

Murals! Murals! Murals!

Chemainus vancouver island, with its outdoor art gallery, became the first town to grow a new business, tourism, from their wall murals. Starting with just five wall murals in the summer of 1981, Chemainus determinatedly persisted and created a place for itself by depicting its history in art.  With the now 41 murals painted and displayed all over the walls of Chemainus it is no wonder that ‘The Little Town that Did!’ has  been acknowledged world-wide for its amazing artistry, as well as presented the New York Downtown Revitalization Award fin 1983 for its revitalization of the town’s core.  These Murals, and the town that developed them, are amazing and a must-see!

For a sneak peek you can view some of the Murals of Chemainus now.

Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to Amazing Vancouver Island and a clickable link back to this page.

Publisher of Amazing Vancouver Island. Doug grew up in Kamloops and Vancouver. He is also the President of KIAI Angency, an Internet Marketing and Branding agency in Vancouver. He is an avid photographer and you can see his many pix of Vancouver Island on Flickr.

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