The Murals of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: Mural of the Year
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2005

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613 Portage Avenue   
  

The Winnipeg Falcons won the world's First Olympic Gold Medal in Antwerp, Belgium in 1920. Most or all of the team were Icelandic immigrants living in the West End, and honed their skills there, practising in backyard flooded rinks.


Location: NE corner Portage & Furby; West Face

Occupant: Fosters Shoes

District: West End

Neighbourhood: Spence

Artist(s): Michel Saint Hilaire, Mandy van Leeuwen

Year: 2005

Sponsors: West End BIZ, Neighbourhoods Alive! (Manitoba)

 

Mural of the Year 2005   

Mandy van Leeuwen: "This was initially to be another artist's wall; but she was tied up with another project and asked us if we could do it and if it still could be done. She had given us her own design, but we decided we wanted to try our own approach and design."

Michel St. Hilaire: "We were initially going to work off Jill's sketch and then we realized that it just didn't feel like ours- let's try something else. And this one came out more colourful, vibrant, has more energy. It shows a moment in time; it's relaxing it's cosy and comforting; it shows snow which is generally not done in Murals- this is Winnipeg! There's snow!"

Mandy: "We also met with Trudy (Turner, Executive Director, West End BIZ) and came up with the design that you see here: an interior scene with the table with the pictures and medal on it looking out the window at a hockey game being played on a frozen outdoor rink in the West End. This is like a day in the life of the Falcons back when they were practicing in their backyard rinks."

Michel: "Trudy was extremely helpful- I remember when we were thinking about a design, she suggested 'how about looking out a living room and seeing them playing hockey outside,'. It all unfolded right there! Sometimes it's like that, you get a key idea and everything blooms from there! Looking through the window, too, is like a metaphor of reflecting back on how it all happened- the spirit of the past; and also perhaps suggestive of the future in looking at the next generation of players."

Mandy: "We designed this piece with the elements in mind that we definitely wanted to include into the Mural. At that time there was a Winnipeg Falcons exhibit at the MTS centre that I attended with Trudy (Turner of West End BIZ) and Jill (Sellers). There were descendents of the Winnipeg Falcons families there. Dan Johnson helps with a Falcons Committee that is devoted to keeping the memories alive. I really sensed while there that they really wanted their story told; so it was really good for motivation, research and inspiration."

"The owner of Foster Shoes lives in Toronto. He came to Winnipeg at the very beginning of the project at a very early stage at the wall. He had expressed a preference for this Falcons wall, as this wall was originally intended to be the site of the Cartoon Charlie Mural (see 661 Ellice above). But he knew about the Falcons, and wanted the Falcons on his wall instead. I think that's rather cool, too; that he lives in Toronto, but he wanted to support something that was about Winnipeg."

In this beautifully constructed interior scene, the Allen Cup Championship (team photo on left, Photo 3) has already been won; as has the Olympic Gold Medal at Antwerp (team photo on right, Photo 2). Gazing outwards from this interior (introspective) scene through the window at the shinny hockey is like harkening back (and a tip of the hat) to those earlier days of those same Icelandic lads developing and honing their skills together on their own outdoor rinks. The houses behind them are reminiscent and suggestive of those found in the West End. The composition of the scene was designed up big to be visible, pull the eyes in, and to hold the interest from viewing from the South Side of Portage Avenue, because of the position of the building (being a west-facing wall) the large majority of commuting traffic will view it coming into city centre as opposed to leaving it.

Mandy: "I think the Mural speaks for itself. It's exactly what you see. Its elements involves all of the important elements of the story: photographs of the team, the Olympic Gold medal, the fact that they practised right in their backyards in the West End; and showing all those things in one scene. We tried to do something new without doing a collage. It's an interior scene looking outward. There's a round table at the window with a lamp, a plant hanging on the side- you can see the curtains with older style of windows. it's a natural, unposed setting, and you are invited into a moment with them. This window you're both looking into the future and looking back. The real emphasis here though, of course, is how they learned their skills."

Michel: "The layout came really natural. I found that the whole thing had a balance or symmetry to it- everything fit; it was just perfect: from the drapes to the frames, with the black and white against all that colour, and the way the plants are next to it on the left side. It's a really tight Mural and a good piece. The setting of the scene is an older traditional setting, although not as old as the 20's. The drapes look like a thick velvet-y green. And we wanted to make the house look like it was in the West End. A lot of the houses in this scene were made up when we were looking around Furby. We were looking at details of the houses around us to help us capture the look and feel that this is the West End."

Mandy: "That was very important because this all happened in the West End. Some of the houses here look very different than houses in other areas of the city."

Michel: "Another thing I like about the outdoor part of the scene is that it has very fairy tale, idealized Hallmark quality to it. The colours are so crisp- a fresh look. I like the palette of that wall as well. Mandy is huge on contrast and I'm huge on realism, lines and geometry; and we tend to learn from one another."

Because it was getting late in the year the artists approached this wall in a way that they could accommodate the colder weather. The photographic portrait imagery was actually rendered off site onto crezone boards and then mounted seamlessly onto the wall. Mandy: "We decided to do this finer detail part on board, as a picture insert that would benefit the actual look of the Mural as well as allowing us to continue working on it when the weather changed. Any portrait artwork anywhere on any surface is best portrayed on a smooth surface. That brick wall was pretty lumpy, and if we had gone about putting it there, it wouldn't have the look that it does now. Nor would it attract you as quickly as it does now with the smooth surface that makes it appear more real. It is the 'photos' themselves which are the central focal points of the Mural, not, say, the lamp or the window; which are background and contribute to the ambiance of the piece."

Michel: "Foster Shoes were amazing. They let us use their washrooms, their sinks; and they let us use their basement in the later stages to work on the photograph panels. That was also the moment when it was getting very cold out- their area was like our studio for awhile; and they made it very comfortable for us. We were very grateful for letting us go down there and doing whatever we wanted. Susan (the store manager) was very enthusiastic. John Foster came by once and said it was very nice."

"The photograph panels were anything but squared off sheets. We had to measure each one very precise to the area allotted for them. It was very difficult. They were both angled to fit the perspective in the design. We had to cut it afterwards again and make adjustments at the wall as well."

"Mandy and I work well and have fun together. With this Mural I think it really shows. And there was something about it, especially about how it affected our partnership that got really strong especially towards the end. There was a lot of emotions with that Mural and during that time."

About the Winnipeg Falcons:

The Winnipeg Falcons tale of Olympic Glory is a story of overcoming adversity and discrimination to excel at their chosen sport. The members of the Winnipeg Falcons were mostly Icelandic. Their parents or grandparents had come to Winnipeg in the late 1880's, when a volcanic eruption in Iceland had made farming very difficult. In spite of hardships of weather and sickness when they first arrived, the new Icelandic community grew and prospered. Within months of their arrival, they had two newspapers, an athletic club, engaged in many cultural activities, and embraced the Canadian game of hockey. These clean living, young Icelandic men honed their skills on flooded backyard rinks. They tended to skate and play together because no other teams wanted to play them. At that time in Winnipeg there were many different ethnicities all trying to get ahead and it was difficult for these lads to integrate into the larger community: they had fair hair, lighter skin and went to a different church. Thus, they learned to stick together.

Several of them served together in World War One; and formed a hockey team while they were training in Winnipeg as members of the Canadian Army's 223rd Battalion. Two of them, Frank Frederickson and Konrad (Konnie) Johannesson, joined the Royal Flying Corps, serving as fighter pilots.

After the war, other Winnipeg teams still wouldn't play them, so they formed the Manitoba Hockey League with other teams from outside Winnipeg. The Falcons won their League Championship and had an opportunity to compete in the Allan Cup. In qualifying, they first exacted revenge on the Winnipeg League that didn't want them by trouncing its championship team. The Falcons then went on to win the Western final, advancing to the Allan Cup final in Toronto against the University of Toronto. They easily won that two game total goal series, earning them bragging rights as Canada's senior hockey squad, as well as the right to compete in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium.

In Antwerp, The Winnipeg Falcons first beat Czechoslovakia 14-0. Their only real competition were the Americans whom they beat 2-0. In the Olympic final, they beat Sweden 12-1, winning the world's first Olympic Gold medal in hockey, for Canada.

For lots more on the Winnipeg Falcons please visit http://www.winnipegfalcons.com/, a site run by Brian Johanneson, the son of Winnipeg Falcon Konnie Johannesson.