A massive mural paying tribute to Indigenous culture and history is nearing completion on St. Mary's First Nation in Fredericton.

Vividly painted turtles, moose, butterflies and flowers have replaced the dreary grey concrete of an overpass on the capital city's north side.

'The turtle, that's our spirit for everybody and that's the reason why I put them in there.'  - April Paul, artist

"I drew the flower," said April Paul, the artist who spent the last three months creating the towering artwork. "Then after that I just went crazy." 

What is likely her largest piece of art has been a challenge to paint, she said. 

"For me being three apples high, I don't know, I had three or four different-size ladders," said Paul, who can see the mural from her property.

April Paul

Artist April Paul says the large murals were a challenge to paint given their location on corrugated concrete. She says she needed several different-sized ladders to work on the installation. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

"It took time. Because of the grooves it was hard to get a straight line." 

While the corrugated concrete made for a troublesome canvas, Paul was able to create the large, vivid images, all of which have connections to her people and community. 

"The moose, of course, has to be there because that's what fed us in the past," said Paul. "The turtle, that's our spirit for everybody and that's the reason why I put them in there." 

But the big blue, purple, and blue butterfly that faces Paul's home holds special meaning. It was painted in memory of 21-year-old Dakota Brooks, a member of the St. Mary's community who took her own life in 2011. 

"The butterfly is like a messenger for the deceased," said Paul. "So if we see one and we say something, that butterfly will take it back to them." 

Turtle overpass

A brightly painted turtle now adorns the overpass in St. Mary's First Nation. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

Paul feels her community should have artistic reminders of friends and loved ones who have passed away. 

"It felt really good," she said. "I enjoy painting and just getting thinking of her and doing it, it was really nice." 

Community canvas  

While nearly completed, Paul said the mural is just waiting for a few warmer days when she can paint the final details. 

But those who commissioned the art are already ecstatic about the installation. 

"When it is all said and done it is fantastic," said Allan Polchies Jr., St. Mary's community planner. "It really stands out." 


This large butterfly was painted on the overpass in St. Mary's in memory of 21-year-old Dakota Brooks, who died by suicide in 2011. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

Polchies had previously worked with Paul on getting students to paint murals on the interior of the overpass back in 2012 to cover racist graffiti.

He said the latest artwork is something community members can really be proud of because it reflects their culture, and the culture of the first peoples of Turtle Island, the name many Indigenous people use for North America.

"You go to a foreign country, you see all their art everywhere," said Polchies. "And Indigenous people, we are the founders of Turtle Island, and we need to reflect that on our buildings, and where we come from, all over the place." 

St. Mary's mural art showcases Indigenous history and culture0:41