NDG neighbours brighten up their community with colourful hydro pole murals

Neighbours in NDG got the green light from Hydro-Québec to launch their own pilot project: painting murals on hydro poles to beautify their neighbourhood.

A first in Quebec, new project creates a sense of 'investment and citizenship and ownership in the community'

Ruth Boomer of the Cheap Art Collective, right, encouraged fellow NDG resident Krzysztof Doniewski to participate in the painting of hydro poles in NDG's Saint-Raymond neighbourhood. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

It has been decades since artist Krzysztof Doniewski left Poland to build a life in Canada, but he still has fond memories of his native land.

"I soaked up all the colours and images over there," he says, standing next to his vibrant, cylindrically shaped mural that he painted on a hydro pole just steps from his apartment building in Montreal's west end.

The acrylic painting shows sunflowers against a blue sky while farmers work on a green-tinted slope — a slope that's topped with a welcoming house, warm smoke billowing from its red chimney.

It's a reminder of where he comes from, he said, and he can see it from his building's front door.

Doniewski's painting isn't the only work of art adorning hydro poles in the tight-knit enclave of Saint-Raymond, a neighbourhood sandwiched between train tracks and St-Jacques Street in the borough of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

Throughout the summer, artists, teens and families from the community have been sprucing up hydro poles in their neighbourhood — poles that, lining Upper Lachine Road just west of Girouard Avenue, are now a flood of colours and scenes from the natural to the supernatural.

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Co-founder of the Cheap Art Collective, Melanie Stuy, left, and artist Kendra Boychuk. Boychuk says she and her daughter livened up a bus stop they use regularly. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

Adding a personal touch to the neighbourhood

Painting the poles is a pilot project — a first in the province.

It was given the green light by Hydro-Québec and is now part of an ongoing effort by a local group, the Cheap Art Collective, to beautify Saint-Raymond, adding their own personal touch to the weathered wood.

"The Saint-Raymond community is so strong. It is so art-oriented," said Nadine Collins, coordinator of the Saint-Raymond Community Centre.

It's a project, she said, that not only makes the neighbourhood prettier, but creates a sense of "investment and citizenship and ownership in the community."

Local teens helped design a colourful mural of words on a hydro pole on Upper Lachine Road just east of Old Orchard Avenue. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

Local teens and kids from the community centre's after-school program took part in the project.

While the teens helped design a jazzy collage of words like "peace" and "love," the younger kids painted an under-the-sea scene complete with five-year-old Lina Hamouchi's red fish.

"It likes to eat everything her mommy brings her," she said of her masterpiece. "I had a little help from my friends."

Bringing an idea home from out west

Co-founder of the Cheap Art Collective, Melanie Stuy, said she first got the idea while travelling in Victoria, B.C., a few years ago. She saw some decorated poles and thought it would be something fun to do in her own neighbourhood.

"Finally, this summer, we got around to making it happen," she said, noting the project was in collaboration with Hydro-Québec and funded by Notre-Dame-des-Arts — an umbrella non-profit organization that supports cultural projects in the NDG area.

Painting hydro poles in Montreal's Saint-Raymond neighbourhood was a community effort lead by the Cheap Art Collective, a non-profit organization. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

About 10 poles were selected for the project, with Hydro-Québec providing safety instructions to ensure nobody passed above a certain height and appropriate paints were used to not damage the poles or the stain. Some artists were commissioned, said Stuy, while others volunteered.

"Each pole is unique and each pole is beautiful," she said and, with darker winter days on the horizon, she added, "It's just going to brighten things up."

Stuy said she hopes to expand the project when the weather warms up in the spring.

Project could inspire similar initiatives

"This is a first for Hydro-Québec," said Marie-Claude Durand, the utility's Montreal-based spokesperson. "What they did is absolutely fantastic."

For now, Hydro-Québec is evaluating the project, but Durand said it could inspire other initiatives like it in other parts of the city or province, as long as organizers collaborate with officials to ensure safety and that no important markings or signs are covered up.

Aside from political signs during election season, she said people generally aren't allowed to add anything to poles.

However, she noted, the project has the potential to reduce vandalism as taggers are less likely to mar works of art — works of art like the flashy, blue-eyed rainbow dragon wrapped around the pole that at the corner of Oxford Avenue and Upper Lachine.
NDG resident Kendra Boychuk's 14-year-old daughter, Maya, painted a rainbow dragon at the corner of Oxford Avenue and Upper Lachine Road. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

Families paint hydro poles together

A mother-daughter team painted two poles side by side at that location. The dragon was the 14-year-old's first commissioned work, painted next to a bus stop that the whole family uses regularly to get to work and school.

"It can be depressing place at seven in the morning and I just wanted to put something beautiful," said the teen's mother, Kendra Boychuk, a visual artist.

Boychuk added clouds, a forest and the expression, "Fear is a liar" to the pole she painted.

As they painted the hydro poles, people stopped by, commended the project and thanked them for the art.

Down the street, a similar story unfolded at the corner of Old Orchard Avenue and Upper Lachine where a purple-haired mermaid in a starfish bikini was painted by the family of Kasey Partington, 11, and her sister, Tenka Partington, 9.

Tenka Partington, 9, and Kasey Partington, 11, say their mermaid, which they painted with their family, adds some much-needed colour to the neighbourhood. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

Working as a team, the family spent a couple of days on the painting, proportioning it out, sketching the background and then adding pinks, blues and yellows.

The mural brings colour to a neighbourhood that needed it, the sisters both said.

"I thought of a mermaid because unicorns and mermaids are my favourite things," said Tenka who came up with the design.

"I think the whole family did a good job."