Winnipeggers heading west on Portage Avenue might notice a new and vibrant sight as they cross into the St. James community, where local organizers have unveiled a new mural commemorating the area’s 100th anniversary.
“Just to see it up, and so vibrant and beautiful in our community, I couldn’t be more proud,” said Kristi Meek, president of the Assiniboia Chamber of Commerce. “It was just a blessing. What a great experience.”
In 2021, St. James Coun. Scott Gillingham enlisted Meek’s help to form a planning committee in celebration of St. James’ 100th anniversary, which was set to take place that year. The group discussed a variety of pop-ups and events, most of which the COVID-19 pandemic made impossible, Meek said.
“The pandemic kind of thwarted those, but I think our plan B of a mural was actually the best idea we had… now we have this piece that’s going to stand the test of time,” Meek said.
The mural resembles a postcard, with the neighbourhood’s name written in large block letters and each letter depicting a different neighbourhood landmark, including Assiniboine Park, Deer Lodge Centre and Grant’s Old Mill.
It is meant to represent the industry, history and pride that makes St. James unique, said Jen Mosienko, the muralist responsible for the art.
“The subjects were chosen with careful consideration and debate,” she said “(We) wanted a way to combine the images where they each had their own spot.”
Mosienko has created more than 30 other murals across Winnipeg. She designed and painted the wall art with the help of Morgan Biggs, her mentee.
Biggs estimates the pair spent at least 300 hours working on the mural.
“I want to go to bed,” Mosienko said, laughing.
Jokes aside, Mosienko stressed she feels deeply honoured by the opportunity to contribute to the celebration of St. James centennial, adding that she has called the community home for 16 years.
“I always say I have the privilege of painting the mural, but it belongs to the community,” she said.
“Public art is for everybody. Nobody has to pay to come see this… (the community) should take ownership of it because it’s for everybody,” Biggs added.
The mural now occupies a large wall on the side of a building at 1721 Portage Ave.
On Sunday afternoon, Meek organized a public BBQ and invited community members to come and enjoy the art together. More than 200 people showed up, including Gillingham, who will soon leave his post on city council in a bid to become Winnipeg’s next mayor.
“I trust that when we see this mural, we see it as foundational to the kind of community we are and the kind of community we can continue to be in the future,” Gillingham said when he addressed the crowd.
Fellow mayoral hopefuls Glen Murray, Kevin Klein and Rick Shone came in support.
All five candidates competing for the St. James city council seat also attended.
All in, the mural cost around $15,000 to create. The City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba subsidized much of the expense through community improvement grants, and numerous other organizations also contributed, Meek said.
Meek hopes the mural becomes a local attraction, drawing people into the neighbourhood and inspiring them to explore its history and businesses, she said