Gillam artist hopes mural quells residual gloom after RCMP search for B.C. fugitives
As search scales down, 'I felt it was a good time to bring something pretty to town,' says Dakota Massan
An artist in a normally quiet northern Manitoba town that became the epicentre of a vast police search for two murder suspects hopes his newest work brings light to any remaining gloom people there feel.
Dakota Massan, 21, spent hours Thursday crafting a vibrant mural on large cement blocks, located in an area nearly 10 kilometres outside Gillam, Man. — about 730 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
"I felt it was a good time to bring something pretty to town," said Massan. "Especially with all the news lately with those suspected killers … I figured this town could use something to brighten their day."
The 4.5 by 2.5-metre mural took 10 full cans of spray paint to create, Massan said.
It features bold and bright colours and he hopes its overall look conveys a sense of female empowerment that honours his upbringing, during which he says he was surrounded by strong female figures.
But Massan also wants the art to bring a sense of hope to people in the remote community of about 1,300, after nearly two weeks of tension brought about by the RCMP and Canadian military's efforts to find Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19.
You walk around Gillam at night and it's a ghost town … and that is so unlike Gillam- Cheryl Friesen
On July 22, a burning Toyota RAV4 was found near the town. Police later confirmed it was the vehicle driven by McLeod and Schmegelsky — who are now charged with second-degree murder in the death of university lecturer Leonard Dyck, and suspects in the killings of tourists Lucas Fowler and Chynna Deese.
Though the two remain at large, police announced late this week they were scaling back their presence in Gillam.
- VideoLife getting back to normal, but uncertainty keeps Gillam on edge as hunt for B.C. fugitives scales down
The town has been quiet and "down" since people learned the suspects were spotted there, Massan said.
That view was echoed by resident Cheryl Friesen, who said she was "really impressed" with Massan's efforts to use art to try to overcome any lingering unease fellow residents feel.
"I think it's just so beautiful and colourful," she told CBC on Saturday. "It's just perfect timing."
Community meeting with police 'what they need'
More than 100 people turned up Friday evening at a community meeting with police and local politicians to talk about the search and the toll it has taken on the town.
"I think that's what they need," said Friesen, who did not attend as she was away from the area.
The meeting provided a chance for people to get out of their homes in a safe environment and ask questions, she said. "I think it's just great for the community."
The sighting of the suspects and resulting police activity was unsettling, she suggested.
"You walk around Gillam at night and it's a ghost town. There's nobody out and about — and that is so unlike Gillam," said Friesen.
Friesen said she takes comfort in how seriously police took the situation and how locals were treated.
"Everybody that came was very polite, very respectful," she said.
But given that McLeod and Schmegelsky have not been found, she's going to continue to be wary.
"I think we'll continue to stick close to town and lock our doors, which is not something that we're used to," Friesen said. "There is the chance that they're out there somewhere."