After fending off controversy this past year, one of the owners of Halifax's Freak Lunchbox says she feels a sense of "huge relief" the mural they commissioned for the side of their building has received international recognition.

The mural has been listed at number 14 on a top 20 list of best murals compiled by All City Canvas, a website that promotes artistic content from around the world. 

"It's gone quite global, which is exciting," Freak Lunchbox co-owner Erin Smith told CBC News. 

In April 2015, Smith and her husband Jeremy started the process of replacing Tall Ships 2000, a 15-year-old mural that endeared itself to passersby and residents alike. The artist of that mural, Zeqirja Rexhepi, hoped the city would save it.

Over the summer, the business became the centre of controversy. A new home for Tall Ships 2000 could not be found. Rexhepi's family felt not enough had been done, but the Smiths said they'd done their due diligence to Rexhepi and his mural. 

The business owners courted the public for submissions and ideas for a new mural. Jason Botkin, a Montreal muralist who's worked on 230 murals around the world, eventually got the gig. He finished the new mural on Sept. 8.

'A huge surprise'

"It's great! Very cool," Botkin said of the top 20 accolade. "Absolutely a huge surprise." 

Going into the project, he said the Smiths tried to protect him from the controversy. 

But on his first night in the city, he went to eat at an Argyle Street pub. It was there he was exposed to the extent of the mural debate. 

Freak Lunchbox

Photographer Stoo Metz poses with Jason Botkin (right). (Stoo Metz/Twitter)

"These guys at the bar, they were so upset about this mural being painted over. As I was sitting there, listening, overhearing this conversation that just got deeper and they were extremely angry there was this guy from Montreal," he said.

He said drivers would roll down their window while he painted and shout at him angrily.

"It's like working in Paris, you know, people are really vocal about what they think." 

Erin Smith said she fought the backlash by putting her faith in Botkin's talent. 

"When we met with resistance in this city, it was pretty nerve-wracking in combination with the fact that you've got all this invested in one man and you're kind of hoping the outcome is as good as you dream of it to be."

More than just a mural

The mural was never about marketing, Smith said.

"It's more the fact that we owned a building where we were able to present a huge piece of art," she said.

"It's something that we wanted to enjoy in our own city that we work and we love and we're here every day." 

Smith hopes lessons learned from the backlash will break new ground for outdoor art in the city. 

"Hopefully it just opens people's minds to relieve a little bit of the fear that kind of goes with change." 

After spending $12,000 on the project, Smith acknowledged nothing lasts forever. 

"I really think that outdoor art is meant to change," she said. "But hopefully it lasts so we can enjoy it for a long time."