Saturday, April 27, 2013

ArtTrail # 10 - Little Town That Did

"Never let those who say it can't be done,
stand in the way of those who are doing it."
Karl Schutz

There were the country's natural features - thick forest, the stream with its powerful waterfall, and the deep water bay - which made it an ideal location.

Inextricably tied to its forest and the industries associated with it, the little town was established, grew, prospered, teetered on the edge of oblivion in a changing world, and refused to give up.

Long ago, a legendary shaman and prophet named Tsa-meeun-is (Broken Chest) lived on what is now called Vancouver Island, British Columbia in Canada. Surviving a massive chest wound, he became a powerful chief and his people proudly took his name for their tribal group.

Today, his name designates a river, valley, bay, land district, and the small town; it is now spelled Chemainus.
This historic little town lays about a quarter of the way up the eastern side of the island. Although descendants of the original inhabitants (now called Stz'uminus First Nation) still live in the area, the town itself was established and grew largely due to immigrants from afar.
By 1858, large sailing vessels would navigate the deep bay around which the town grew, bringing in supplies and carrying away loads of timber which quickly formed the basis of the growing economy.
A sawmill opened in 1862, operated by a swift-flowing stream and its powerful waterfall.

The railroad arrived in the late 1880s and the town slowly grew over the next thirty years. In the early 1920s the population was estimated at 600 with the inhabitants including many of Chinese, Japanese, and Salish origin.
By the late 1970s, with the mill antiquated and the timber industry suffering exceptionally difficult times, many thought the town was finished.

In the early 1980s the townspeople realized that diversification was the way to ensure the future and preserve this quality of life for the residents.
Awarded a grant from a provincial redevelopment fund, community leaders began searching for ideas on the best way to utilize the funds.
Ultimately, leaders were chosen to coordinate a murals revitalization project, which transformed Chemainus into Canada's largest permanent outdoor gallery.

It was quickly realized that the best subject for these murals was the town's link to its heritage. Forestry played a major role with the giant trees, rugged loggers, oxen teams, mill, and steam locomotives.
There were also significant historical events and the diverse locals - many with their own, unique stories. 
Beginning with five murals in 1982, today more than forty have been commissioned, with the majority portraying local history.

Recent additions include those honoring painter Emily Carr, who painted there in 1924.

To reinvent itself, Chemainus bared its soul by exhibiting its history on its buildings. 

Visitors now pour into the town to enjoy the murals, quaint little shops, local theater, and scenic beauty - all because it really is "The Little Town that DID".

For more information on Chemainus:
On the murals and artists:
On Stz'uminus First Nation