Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/6/2011 (3201 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Faces smiling easily on a clear blue sky are now looking down at Portage Avenue traffic from the Canadian Pacific rail overpass just east of Empress Street East.
On the right are those who were murdered. On the left are those still missing.
The faces are on a mural that Aboriginal and Northern Development Minister Eric Robinson will officially unveil today to commemorate Manitoba’s missing and murdered aboriginal women.
There are 79 of these women from the province, with some cases dating back as far as 1927, according to the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
"The only way we can do something about it is if everyone is aware of the problem," said Tom Andrich, the artist who painted the mural, in an interview.
Andrich painted the faces from pictures provided by the victims’ families when he could, instead of using mugshots. He wanted the women to be remembered for their good moments rather than for any legal troubles.
Barbara Houle, mother of murdered Cherisse Houle, appreciates that gesture. "That’s the way we remembered her. She was always smiling when she was around her family," she said.
"Who’s going to be smiling in a mugshot?" said Bernie Smith, sister of Claudette Osborne, who is pictured on the wall of the missing. "That doesn’t paint the picture of the person very well."
Smith also hopes the mural will cause people to come forward with new information about her sister’s disappearance.
Doreen Morrisseau, the sister of Glenda Morrisseau, who was murdered, says it doesn’t cause her pain to see her sister’s face on a wall. "It’s not hard because her face is smiling. The thought that I have in my mind is the brutal murder that she went through. I did not see her body because it was too decomposed and the smile brings me a heartwarming feeling."
The same 10 missing and murdered women were pictured on billboards during the six-week "What if She was Your Daughter?" awareness campaign earlier this year. When Doreen saw Glenda’s face on billboards, she would stop and speak to her.
The mural will be more permanent than the billboards. The faces will be intact on the wall for as long as 10 years, Andrich says.
For Andrich, murals need to have a message. "I see a lot of murals, they’re beautiful, but they’re not telling a story. They’re not telling the history of our city," he said.
Andrich is the art director of the Forum Art Institute, but years ago he worked in Child and Family Services, and some of the girls he worked with ended up on the streets and even died there.
Andrich has ways of describing each of the women on the mural after staring at their features for so many hours. "She looks like a real character, a real laugher," he said, of Glenda Morrisseau. And he said Jennifer Catcheway, one of the missing women, looks "really strong — like a stare-’em-down type of woman."
The mural covers the sides of the outer walls of the overpass, directly visible to all the cars heading west on Portage Avenue.
The province funded the mural for about $7,000, said Nahanni Fontaine, Manitoba’s special adviser on aboriginal women’s issues, who obtained permission from CP to paint the bridge.
The grass growing on the ground in front of the mural blends into a painted grassy landscape. Bunches of sweetgrass send puffs of smoke into a clear blue sky, where the 10 girls’ faces are suspended. Above them, the sky becomes a navy night where the words "Never Forgotten" stand out.
The northern lights shimmer in the night sky next to the emblems of several traditional native spirits, such as the wolf, bison, rabbit and deer. Andrich can appreciate these spirits even if they’re not from his religious tradition.
"It’s not that I believe in the spirits but I believe in God so if it’s a matter of believing in a creator looking after the girls, put him in any form you want, as long as there’s a creator out there," he said.