The Murals of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: Mural of the Year
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1240 Ellice Avenue    Location Map

'Road to Valour'

Location: SW corner Ellice & Valour; North Face

Occupant: Hallmart Building- Liberty Tax Service

District: West End

Neighbourhood: Minto

Artist(s): Charlie Johnston (C5 Artworks)

Year: 2008

Sponsors: Building Communities Initiative, West End BIZ


Mural of the Year 2008   

Bob Buchanan: "Design proposals for this wall in honour of the Valour Road heroes was an open competition. When West End BIZ Executive Director Gloria Cardwell-Hoeppner told me about artist Charlie Johnston's winning design for this one, before I'd even seen it, she described it to me as 'a home run'."

Charlie Johnston: "The Mural commemorates these three different men all coming from basically from the same city block on Pine Street (later renamed Valour Road in their honour), all going to war and engaging in World War I; and all three of them receiving the Victoria Cross. Nowhere in the world can it be said that 3 men on the same city block have all been awarded the Victoria Cross. The only one of them that survived the war was Lieutenant Shankland, the figure on the right. All three of these men performed acts of heroism above and beyond the call of duty."

"The Mural isn't about acts of war, death or violence but about honouring these three men and what makes them special and unique. So basically the Mural depicts their path: from the front doors of their modest houses on Pine Street; through their journey through the trenches in World War I, leading to receiving the Victoria Cross for their acts of heroism. The element of three is repeated several times: three houses, three paths, three trees, three men leaving for war. The three ribbons of the Victoria Cross start off as sidewalks from their houses leading through and framing the portraits and leading to the three Victoria Crosses. Three poppies amongst a field of poppies. If each of the poppies in the field represents one soldier out of many; you begin to realize that each of these three men were just one of many that left their homes to do their part. And then, three sets of hands lowering the Pine Street sign and raising the Valour Road sign as the community homage to these three men."

"I found their signatures on their papers and I reproduced their signatures the best I could. I was just trying to find every way I could to get the personalities of the three men in the Mural. It is said that a person's signature says a lot about their personality."

In this Mural, artist Charlie Johnston in sections of the wall is mimicking the procedure of that era of colourizing black and white photographs. "That's how I treated the portraits in particular. I used the same aesthetic as well with the troops in the trenches right beside them. There were a couple of reasons I did that. One was I wanted to keep the flavour of the era from which these men came from intact, and to have that quality come through in the portraits. It was also a useful technique because in some cases there was only one photograph of the person. There was only one photograph of Corporal Leo Clark (centre figure), and it wasn't a very good one."

"Quite often when I'm doing a project I will draw from something of my own past history of creating art. So I took advantage of my own experience doing this exact process when I worked for Sooter's Photos doing photo restoration and enhancements of old photographs. This was pre digital technology, before Photoshop, where it was all done by hand. I hand-tinted with photo oils these sepia toned old photographs. Because I had the experience in doing that, so I had a very good sense of what it was like to take an old black and white photograph and restore it and colour enhance it. The actual colours of the figures is not a natural flesh tone; it's more of a soft greyscale- something you might see in a vintage film. This technique was a way of helping me to capture the mood and character of the men and the time in which they lived. It's something that I had thought about trying at some point, and it was a natural fit and choice for this design."

"The two big things about this Mural were the colour schemes and the symbolic transitions. The pink halos around the portraits of the men helped to fully separate the nostalgic photographic element from everything else to make them stand out. This keylining effect was common in the sign painting tradition to put a bold line around a rendering of someone or something. Graffiti artists also use keylining effect. I used it in this case to make them stand out with the colour red- also the horizon on the right and the hue over the houses on the left."

"I was able to make use of the stucco surface of the Mural to my advantage- with a smooth I don't think the Mural would have worked as well. The stucco added that texture to help bring out the qualities of the portraits that I was after giving them that grainy old film texture."

About the Men of Valour Road:

CORPORAL LEO CLARKE won his V.C. in the trenches during the battle of the Somme. Clarke had found himself alone, under attack by 20 enemy soldiers. Instead of surrendering, Clarke attacked, emptying his revolver twice and then firing a German rifle he picked up from the ground. In the struggle that followed, a German officer bayonetted him in the knee before Clarke could shoot him. Wounded and bleeding, Clarke kept up the attack, and as enemy soldiers fled Clarke followed, killing four more and taking a prisoner. Though he was ordered to hospital, Clarke returned to battle the next day. Leo Clarke died in action a month later.

SERGEANT-MAJOR FREDERICK WILLIAM HALL was awarded the V.C. for giving his life to save a comrade at the battle of Ypres. With his company pinned down in the trenches by fierce enemy fire, Hall had gone out twice under cover of night to rescue injured men. On the morning of February 21, 1915, men in the trench heard the groans of an injured soldier on the battlefield. Hall and two others volunteered to go after him, but as they went over the top they drew heavy fire. The two other men were injured, and all were forced back to their trench. After a few minutes, Hall went out alone in broad daylight, with enemy guns waiting for him. He crawled out and across the field under a hail of bullets. Reaching for the fallen soldier, Hall managed to squirm himself under the wounded man and begin moving him on his back toward his lines. However, when Hall raised his head to find his way back to the trench, he caught a bullet in the head and died instantly.

At the battle of Passchendaele, LIEUTENANT ROBERT SHANKLAND led his men to a forward position which they held during a fierce counter-attack. Knowing that an accurate description of his company's position was critical to the Allied battle plan, Shankland made his way alone through the battlefield to Battalion Headquarters, delivered the necessary information, and returned the way he had come. Rejoining his men, Shankland carried on until the end of the battle. The citation of his Victoria Cross commends his personal courage, gallantry and skill, and emphasizes the example he set for the men under his command. Of the three Victoria Cross recipients from Valour Road, only Shankland survived the war.

The individual heroism of men like Clarke, Hall and Shankland is set against the background of the misery and horror of war. Canadians have rarely glorified their involvement in conflict; it is more characteristic of us to see the action of our soldiers in the Great War as the unavoidable and accepted duty of courageous men in the face of global tragedy. More than 50,000 young Canadians died in World War I. When it was over, the survivors returned home as older, sadder men, whose common hope was that there would never be another war like it again.