'A Century of Solidarity'.
96 feet. X 120 feet
9200 square feet
Location: NW corner Broadway & Garry; East Face
Occupant: Union Centre Building
District: City Centre
Neighbourhood: South Portage
Artist(s): Charlie Johnston (C5 Artworks)
Sponsors: Union Centre, Manitoba Federation of Labour, Take Pride Winnipeg!
Mural of the Year 2020
CTV coverage of our Mural of the Year is
Marie Gomez for CityNews filed this excellent piece on our Mural of the Year which may be viewed
Charlie Johnston: "Tom Ethans put me onto this project. Tom approached me about the
Mural and I got excited! I met with the directors of the Manitoba Federation of Labour
and we started to discuss the concept and project. It was to essentially celebrate a century
"It's really a 'then-and-now' piece: how things were before the strike happened; and what
impact the strike had on the contemporary working class citizens. The 1919 Winnipeg
General Strike launched the labour movement in Canada."
"I began working on the concept in September of 2019. The actual production and
rendering at the wall took two months. I went through several concept drawings before
we came to the final design. A lot of the emphasis was on being visually representative
and illustrating inclusivity in the multicultural aspects of the labour workforce in
"A lot of things were being brought in front of mind to me. Part of what I was feeling was
that time isn't real- the past and the present are inextricably intertwined; and how to
reflect that sentiment in the artwork itself. So the connection between the people since
the era of the 1919 strikers and the people who are the working class heroes of the day.
So there's a lot about that. Also I was really interested in the interplay of images and text
and representing the ghost signs which are derived from that era in Winnipeg. It was
really important to me to reference and speak to this aspect of Winnipeg being a sign
"This Mural was an opportunity to bring together everything I love about Mural art in
one big magnificent piece. It's the monumental portraits, the power of massive colour
fields, the ghost texting, and a lot of old school stuff. It's about making a broad sweeping
statement- it's a little bit of everything about Mural Art and the art form itself."
Walkthough of elements, imagery and cast of characters:
"All of the main figures have their own story. In fact I made up back stories for them!
But not so much for the teeming masses of humanity in the background. Those were
composites derived from actual archival photographs. I drew imagery from those strike
photos- just a sea of hats! When you start to look closely at those figures with a
magnifying glass you'll see pretty much every walk of life person out there-men of all
demographics; women and children were out demonstrating because of the fact that there
was a lot of slave labour type environments both for children and women that was the
kind of stuff they were fighting to end or change."
"All of the greyscale images were derived from those sources. Some of the captions were
pulled straight from the headlines. It was important to me to put that particular
newspaper on there as well because it was the newspaper of the time and on the record."
"The main characters have stories and in a way mark the evolution of the working class
since the strike."
Millie the Machinist- "She's a figure of the Fifties- a hardworking git 'er done
gal! She's part homage to my Mom whose name is Mildred. She was a hard working
woman from these times. Her last place of employment was just down the road.- less
than a block away from this spot. Millie the Machinist is my Canadian version, giving
Canada its own version of (Norman Rockwell's) Rosie the Riveter. Millie, with her
machinist tool is turning the wheel of time, in a manner of speaking. Her gentle but
mighty grip moves the masses towards self-actualization."
Fernando- "He's a 70's or 80's type guy. He's an office worker. I'm
representing different aspects of the labour union in different characters. I thought it was
important that, here, a white man is on the phone- LISTENING. There are many who feel that
the role of the white male in society is to do a better job of listening- to shut up
and listen: to the marginalized, to the female perspective, and the less represented
people in society. The cord of the phone he's holding goes across towards the black
woman- There's a subtle message there for better communication between genders and
Aja Orisha- "Aja is an Orisha, (or a human recognized as a Goddess). She is a
powerful Goddess of Healing, also known as the spirit of the forest and herbal healers in
Santerian religious practice. You are lucky if you will be blessed with her remarkable
magic, as she holds the secrets of botany and green herbs and tends to pass her skills to
the Yoruban people who desired to practice this art. She is a double homage to the Black
Lives Matter movement, and also to the Nurses who have given & sacrificed the
most during the pandemic. She is given the place of greatest honour. It was important to
me that the Black Nurse was at the apex of the circle."
Ceres/Cerise- "Named after theRoman Goddess of agriculture, fertility, grains,
the harvest, motherhood, the earth, and cultivated crops. She's a grocery worker, another
front line worker, bringing an abundance of harvest."
Allan W- Aboriginal man at work, both learned and strong, literally a 'man of letters'-
half in the spirit world of ghost signs and ancestors, half in the physical world- digging
in, marked by an aboriginal eagle tattoo. I got some direction on this from the Indigenous
Knowledge Keeper I'm working with on several projects, Jeannie Redeagle. I told her
about this figure and what I was trying to achieve with him, and how to best represent
him as indigenous. We talked about the indigenous eagle tattoo on his arm. That was the
way to mark him. For me, he is a crossover figure. He's a man of knowledge, a man of
means, and a man who works and gets things done. Literally, one of the ghost signs
crosses his face. He's in between the two worlds of labour and of intelligence and
thought. He crosses that bridge between the two worlds by having the sign intersecting
with his features. The word READ is hidden inside the word BREAD.
The two words converge into him! He's earning his daily bread but he's also literate and
thoughtful and intelligent. He's doing the hard work. He's digging up the ghosts of the
past, in a way. The figure is named after Jeannie's father."
Stanley- "The other labourer for me represents the two cultures (indigenous and
no-indigenous) working together. He's a neo-colonial working class Canadian man only
identifiable by his Anglo Saxon complexion and his left ear. He's there mainly just to
bear down and do the work. His job is to sublimate his ego, listen, and dig up the dirt-
the news of the day. He's named in honour of my father."
Charlie the Painter- "That's me! Also part of the crossover between the past and
present, literally, is the old school painter, leaning in and holding the ladder, holding it in
place so that the grocery working figure can bring abundance to the people now. This
turn of the century Sign Writer is the giver of voice, the one who holds the ladder so that
the front line workers of today may rise up to a higher standard- a real idea man! You
can imagine that he's the guy that could have painted the protest signs."
The two boys I named Robert & Douglas. "Yes, Robert & Douglas- their
friendship would last a lifetime, forged in the fires of the Winnipeg General Strike. Their
children would marry. Their grandchildren, named after them, would become iconic
Canuck brethren Bob & Doug Mackenzie. Good day, eh?!"
"'Marshall McLuhan' is who I called the figure at the bottom right because he
was an iconic Canadian figure, philosopher, scholar and visionary. What the actual
Marshall McLuhan is remembered for is The Medium is the Message. This was the
advent of technology and the information age and how that's going to transform the
conveyance of knowledge and information, and control of it. His literature was about
being on guard against systems of control and who are the gatekeepers of those systems.
An interesting spirit is summoned forth by this character with acts of protest where
people cut the s*** and say what they think."
"One of the techniques I use a lot is the gradient blend. So that massive gradient blend
was the first thing to tell the story. It's purposeful. It starts with that super intense colour
orange which for me is the colour of the labour movement; as well as blasting the
downtown with a super intense colour, which can be seen for miles away. I literally used
up every can of orange in the city at the time as my background on the Strike Mural. The
blend itself tells a story of intense bright orange colour of the labour movement rising up
from the greyscale values so associated with the era of the strike, and the hardships which
were sucking the colour and vitality of oppressive machinations of the industrial
"As an aside, I was at a sort of at a crossroads when two great movements collided. Early
in the project, I was on the boom truck working away roughing in the figures on the wall.
Right there on Broadway the Black Lives Matter protest march was happening! So,
while working on a Mural about one great demonstration protest in Winnipeg, I was
witnessing another great one at the same time! It was pretty cool."