>> Emily Mahbobi

Nestled within the traditional territories of the Lekwungen-Speaking People, known today as the Esquimalt & Songhees Nations, the Fernwood Community Centre is a vital hub for the neighbourhood. As a cherished part of Fernwood Neighbourhood Resource Group (Fernwood NRG), the centre extends a warm embrace to community members of all ages, offering daycare services for infants, toddlers, and children up to out-of-school care age. It’s within this vibrant and nurturing community that an inspiring mural project took root.

The mural project’s primary goal was to breathe new life into the east-facing 3-5 play area wall, and it was executed with a distinctive twist: indigenous plants and animals would take centre-stage, and the project would actively involve the centre’s youngest members. This innovative endeavour was made possible through the dedicated efforts of numerous community members and the guidance of professional mural artist Jesse Campbell.

Jesse Campbell, with Métis, Salteaux, and Cree ancestry on his mother’s side, and mixed European heritage on his father’s side, has been a professional mural artist since 2010. His full-time commitment to the arts as an artist and arts facilitator since 2018 has been a driving force in the community. Jesse’s practice often centres around public art installations, where he collaborates with First Nations communities as an arts advisor and facilitator.

The project’s initial spark came from the My Great Neighbourhood Grant Program by the City of Victoria, a program aimed at invigorating public spaces, fostering a profound sense of community, and leaving a lasting positive legacy in our neighbourhoods. Shannon Jamison led the charge in securing this invaluable grant, and it was Catherine Orr who, with a discerning eye, sought out Jesse Campbell for the mural’s artistic embodiment.

What makes this mural truly special is the involvement of the centre’s children in the 3-5 daycare program. These young minds were not merely passive spectators; they were active participants in shaping the mural’s narrative. Invited to share their ideas and sketches of their favourite natural characters from the neighbourhood, the children’s enthusiasm was palpable. While the opportunity was extended to all, it was the daycare kids who wholeheartedly embraced the project.

Guided by the centre’s 3-5 Coordinator, Shazana Azmee, the children embarked on exploratory journeys through the neighbourhood. They visited Spring Ridge Common, eyes wide with wonder, and pointed out the treasures they encountered—the 7-spotted ladybug, the industrious bumblebee, the ocean spray, and the hardy salal. These were the native plants and animals that would become the mural’s stars. In an added educational dimension, the children also identified non-native species, broadening their understanding of the local ecosystem.

Armed with this catalog of natural wonders, Jesse Campbell embarked on the creative journey of translating their vision into art. The mural’s design was thoughtfully developed, and black-and-white colouring sheets were provided to the children, allowing them to engage more deeply with their own ideas. The final design was a fusion of native species, featuring the bumblebee, the 7-spotted ladybug, salal berries, the sword fern, a Douglas fir, a pacific tree frog, ocean spray, and the bottom of the mural is lined with Nootka roses.

As Jesse breathed life into the mural, additional elements emerged spontaneously – a dragonfly, a familiar crow (a Fernwood icon), and a swallowtail butterfly. These additions enriched the mural’s narrative, weaving together the community’s collective love for their natural surroundings.

The transformation of the once-monochromatic wall into a vibrant tapestry is a sight to behold. Jesse’s professional and efficient work ethic ensured that the project was completed on time. The wall went from being entirely yellow, to being painted blue, to bursting with colours and life, reflecting the indigenous plants and animals that grace the mural.

The community’s reception of the mural has been very positive. It has become a beloved fixture at the Fernwood Community Centre, a testament to the power of community collaboration, artistic vision, and the profound connection between the community and the environment. This mural stands as a living reminder of the deep-rooted respect Fernwood holds for its indigenous flora and fauna, a legacy that will continue to flourish in the hearts and minds of all who encounter it.