Why a Quebec town keeps moving a painting the size of a swimming pool

The painting measures 15 feet high and 29 feet across, so it's no easy feat to relocate and store the giant canvas.

Massive mural measures almost five metres high and nine metres across

From left: Dominic Fontaine-Lasnier of the Centre d’Art de Richmond, Louis Carignan of the Musée de l’Ardoise, Romeo Boutin, Richmond County Historical Society president Norma Husk, and Sherbrooke muralist Serge Malenfant, with the giant painting before rolling it up to move it once again. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

Moving a single painting 650 metres might not sound like a big job, but transporting this particular canvas across the town of Richmond, in the Eastern Townships, required four sets of arms.

The artwork in question, which depicts a cottage, flowers, and the Saint-François River, measures 15 feet high and 29 feet across. It was done by celebrated local artist Antonio Montour.  

The painting was completed in 1942 and for nearly 20 years it has been rolled up at the Sainte-Famille Centre, where the local Lions Club meets, waiting for a permanent home. 

The work was commissioned specifically for Richmond's old town hall, where it hung for almost 60 years. Then the building was demolished in 2001. 

The enormous painting was saved, not once but twice, thanks to 82-year-old local Roméo Boutin. He didn't want a piece of Townships history to end up in a landfill, which is where it was destined to go when the wrecking crew arrived.

"It's a matter of remembering," Boutin said. "I think it can be important for the town of Richmond."

So, he packaged it up, and took it to the Lions Club.

The moving team started by rolling the painting around a 30-foot wood beam, before wrapping it in saran to keep out any humidity. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC )

With the imminent sale of that building, the painting is once again in need of a new home. And so Boutin got involved once again, lobbying local history buffs to get involved.

With a vivid red curtain framing the scene, the painting features a "typical Townships bucolic theme," explained Norma Husk, the head of the Richmond County Historical Society.

Boutin's initial hope was the society would be able to find a place for the art, but Husk has yet to find somewhere large enough to store it — or better yet, display it — for the long term. 

So for now it's going to sit, preciously conserved, in the basement of the Richmond-Melbourne United Church.

After wrapping the painting in saran and several layers of sheet platic, the team started the journey down the steps of the Sainte-Famille Centre en route to the Richmond Melbourne United Church. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

"This is the last step in the move, we hope, until we can find a permanent place for it," she said. 

But moving the mural was no simple feat.

A team of volunteers rolled it all up, wrapped it in cling wrap, and then added several layers of sheet plastic before sealing it with construction tape. 

Then, on the shoulders of four men, it was carried on foot, 650 metres to its new home at the church.

The team then carried the painting by foot, through the snow and the slush, to the church, 650 metres away. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

Leading the parade was Serge Malenfant, a Sherbrooke muralist, who was brought on by Husk to figure out how to conserve and move the painting.  

"I am not a conservator of art, but I know a bit about it," he said. 

"The status of it is very good, there are a few tears, and a few places where the paint came off where it was probably more in light or things like that when it was hanging on the wall."

Malenfant said Quebec's art conservation centre will have to evaluate the painting to identify the pigments and the type of paint, and to figure out how best to display it. They'll be able to do this while it's wrapped around a thick, 30-foot long wood beam. 

The team arrives at the Richmond Melbourne United Church. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

"To find a piece of Antonio Montour canvas, this is the first time I've seen one in this size," Malenfant said, describing Montour as a "Renaissance man" who dabbled in theatre design, visual art, acting, theatre troop leadership, sign-painting, and even sketching out parade floats. 

"So to be able to find a piece of his work in this size of what he used to do with a canvas is pretty amazing," Malenfant said. 

He's a big fan. In fact, Malenfant has featured Montour in one of his own murals. There is also a park in Windsor named after the latter artist. 

"It is part of our culture, it is part of our history in the region in the Eastern Townships, so it is a great pleasure to find the piece in great shape," Malenfant said. 

The Antonio Montour painting, in the basement of the Richmond Melbourne United Church, where it'll stay until the historical society can find it a new, permanent home. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC )