Artists unveil mural paying homage to lost Mi'kmaq community of Crow Gulch

·4 min read
Artists unveil mural paying homage to lost Mi'kmaq community of Crow Gulch
Jordan Bennett (left) and Marcus Gosse pose in front of their finished mural at its unveiling ceremony paying homage to the lost community of Crow Gulch. (James Grudić/CBC - image credit)
Jordan Bennett (left) and Marcus Gosse pose in front of their finished mural at its unveiling ceremony paying homage to the lost community of Crow Gulch. (James Grudić/CBC - image credit)
James Grudić/CBC
James Grudić/CBC

The community of Crow Gulch was broken up decades ago, but now Mi'kmaq artists Jordan Bennett and Marcus Gosse have come together to immortalize it.

The pair collaborated on a painted mural that was unveiled Friday where the community once stood, near Corner Brook's pulp and paper mill.

"It never dies if the spirit and memories are kept alive," Gosse said in an interview earlier this month.

The City of Corner Brook is prepping the site to serve as a new park and rest stop. Nestled into the hillside, the park will have picnic tables, a commemorative plaque and the billboard-sized mural celebrating the people who once lived there.

"We're trying to show that the spirits of Crow Gulch, and of other communities that are no longer inhabited, are still thriving," Gosse said.

James Grudić/CBC
James Grudić/CBC

The artists worked on the mural in pieces; barn door-sized sheets of aluminum were spaced around the lofty workspace at the School of Fine Arts at Memorial University's Grenfell campus.

When completed, the segments join into a single face, measuring nearly three metres tall by eight metres wide. They originally planned to paint on plywood, but later turned to metal for the sake of longevity.

"We want it to be on the land as long as it can be, as a public artwork," said Bennett.

WATCH | Videojournalist Colleen Connors reports on Friday's unveiling:

A painful history

Crow Gulch is a place with a difficult legacy; originally, people came from afar to settle there in hopes of finding work in the bustling paper mill nearby.

The village was largely Mi'kmaq, and was stricken by poverty and marked by social stigma. Municipal services like electricity were never extended into the neighborhood. Eventually, it was bulldozed in the late 1960s, its inhabitants relocated.

Despite the hardships that people endured here, Bennett and Gosse are using their art to celebrate the history of their people in the area.

"For me, this piece is about continuation," said Bennett.

"It's about the communities that have been here in physical space, like Crow Gulch, that now live on through individuals that call this place home."

James Grudić/CBC
James Grudić/CBC

The mural features many symbols, including two prominent crows — a nod to the spiritual presence of their ancestors.

"What we're trying to say is that the ancestors are with us in everything we're doing. They're proud that Indigenous culture is doing really well now," Gosse said.

"We live on a beautiful island that's rich in Mi'kmaq culture, and that's had some really beautiful communities with lots of memories. We want to showcase that in this painting."

Revisiting childhood

Margie Benoit Wheeler lived in Crow Gulch from 1951 until it was razed in 1969. She still remembers the stigma that followed her when she lived in the former community.

"We were called savages, we were called Indians, we were called everything down there. But we were still human beings," she said.

She attended the unveiling of the mural adorned with traditional clothing, symbols and beadwork.

James Grudić/CBC
James Grudić/CBC

"I feel so happy today, because this was a long time coming," said Benoit Wheeler.

"A lot of people are recognizing me for who I am, I guess."

Benoit Wheeler said the community she once called home was seldom talked about; nowadays, it's coming to the light.

"A lot of people talk about it now. When I was going to school, I didn't talk about it too much," she said.

Being of Mi'kmaq descent, which once brought her shame and scorn, has now become a point of pride.

"I'm a strong Mi'kmaw woman now."

A broader vision

But the scope of the mural goes beyond honouring one single community.

"For me, it represents Mi'kmaq communities throughout Newfoundland and other parts of Mi'kma'ki," Bennett said.

The mural is a first of its kind in the area: a large-scale, permanent outdoor public art piece by Indigenous artists has not existed in Corner Brook before.

"We're very proud that this is one the few pieces of exterior Indigenous art in Newfoundland," said Gosse.

James Grudić/CBC
James Grudić/CBC

As their work honours the people of the past, Bennett and Gosse want the painting to leave its mark on people in the present and into the future.

"My hopes, and I know it will come true, are that there will be a lot more pieces by other Indigenous artists around this province, to show presence and community within our communities and towns," Bennett said.

"It's going to be there for years to come," said Gosse.

"People are going to see it and they're going to talk to each other about it.… It'll help preserve Mi'kmaq culture."

Despite a past that includes the trauma of stigmatization, Gosse said he sees a brighter future for his people.

"I don't think any part of Mi'kmaq culture is lost. It's like a treasure — we just need to get out there and dig it up again."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting