Travellers entering the historic Calgary community of Ingelwood from the west 9 Avenue entrance will get a chance to take in the history of Calgary, in mural form.
The West Gateway Mural was unveiled on Oct. 19, on the west side of the Fair’s Fair Books building, which has long been a cultural entrance to the community.
The mural also featured an unusual aspect for outdoor public art in the city—the mural includes an augmented reality aspect that allows visitors to take in roaming buffalo, and an animated Métis jigger dance from Inglewood BIA chair and longtime Métis dancer, Dan Allard.
“It’s good to just have more celebration of Indigenous culture. For me, that’s what I find important, because it just can’t be seen or displayed enough,” said Papaschase Cree artist Jesse Gouchey, who created the mural.
“I’m pretty thrilled to have this chunk of real estate to have my artwork on it… I got my artistic start in Calgary, so it is pretty important to me.”
The work contains visual and iconographic depictions of aspects of Calgary’s history, including the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers where Indigenous people would meet, the local Indigenous groups that surround Calgary, plants and animals of the area, Métis culture, the railroad and the first community members of Inglewood, and the Music Mile.
“It’s a history lesson with a pride of the area and a pride of where Calgary started. The roots behind are just like the people that originally had it as a community, and then the settlers that made it their community,” Gouchey said.
Personal connections in mural
Gouchey said that the project came about as a result of conversations had with Allard, who also happens to be a lifelong friend.
The augmented reality portion of the mural was created by Simpli.AR, and can be accessed without downloading an app by scanning a QR code located at the base of the mural.
“When we found out that Inglewood was going to tell this story, this story of the confluence, the story of the home we get to work and live on, we were really excited to say ‘hey, we have a tool that can actually have this like, come alive, pop out,'” said Simpli.AR co-founder and CFO Alisha Olandesca.
“They were really keen on it just like we were because it is probably the most powerful storytelling tool we have at our disposal right now.”
She said that aspects of the mural coming alive in video form give visitors a greater sense of the community in Inglewood.
That sense of community building was precisely the reason why the Inglewood BIA commissioned the mural project, said Rebecca O’Brien, Executive Director of the BIA.
“We had a slogan for Inglewood at one point ‘Calgary’s boldest Main Street,’ and it was a combination of bold and old—an acknowledgment of looking forward and also recognizing the past,” she said.
“Before this neighbourhood gentrified, this was a working-class neighbourhood. It was based on the rail lines right behind us. It’s important to acknowledge those routes and pay homage to those routes and also before that for hundreds of years. This is the confluence of the Elbow and the Bow.”
O’Brien said that the mural, although created by an Indigenous artist, wasn’t a conscious attempt at reconciliation given the site’s closeness to the confluence of the two rivers.
“There are self-conscious and orchestrated efforts, and I’m not downplaying those… but we had engagement sessions on this, and I think that there’s something much more natural when it’s not like, we have to do this,” she said.
“Rather, we want to do this because it’s fascinating, and it’s interesting, and it’s important. It’s not a lecture, it’s an immersion into something that includes people.”
Joe Ceci, MLA for Calgary Buffalo, which covers Inglewood, said that the mural offered another way for Calgarians to learn about Indigenous culture, and to appreciate what reconciliation is really about.
“We know that there might be a gathering place just here by Fort Calgary. It’s one of three places that are being investigated, and if it is by Fort Calgary, it would bring thousands and thousands of people to this place and they’ll be able to see this beautiful mural at the same time,” he said.
“I’m hopeful that the gathering place will be here at Fort Calgary, but if it’s not, we still have a wonderful mural that talks about the past, present and future.”
The West Gateway Mural was funded by the Province of Alberta, the Inglewood BIA, and Hungerford Properties.