New 4-storey mural unveiled in Vanier pegged as city's tallest

Saturday marked the unveiling of a four-storey mural, approximately 15 metres tall, that now adorns the corner of Montreal Road and Bégin Street.

Local BIA required bylaw exemption to install colourful artwork at Montreal and Bégin

From left to right, artists Mique Michelle, Marcus Kisa-Gaudreau and Kalkidan Assefa pose in front of their new mural in Ottawa's Vanier neighbourhood. The mural was unveiled Saturday and is being hailed as the tallest in the city. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

There's a new mural towering over Ottawa's Vanier neighbourhood — one that's purportedly the tallest in the entire city.

Saturday marked the unveiling of a four-storey mural, approximately 15 metres tall, that now adorns the side of a private building at the corner of Montreal Road and Bégin Street.

The winning design was chosen from a shortlist of four proposals released earlier this year. A public vote saw Vanier residents cast more than 1,000 ballots for their favourite.

"This one's the one that spoke to most people. This was the one that resonated," said Jamie Kwong, the executive director of the Quartier Vanier Business Improvement Area.

This four-storey mural unveiled on June 10, 2017 at the corner of Montreal Road and Bégin Street in Ottawa's Vanier neighbourhood is officially the city's largest, according to the neighbourhood BIA. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

The mural's colourful patterns are a reflection of the vibrant locals and businesses — from markets and restaurants to nail salons and toy stores — that call the east Ottawa neighbourhood home, said Mique Michelle, a Vanier artist and half of the duo whose proposal was chosen for the space.

"My goal is just to make sure everybody who's in Vanier  — or in general — can communicate what they're feeling, what they're living," she said.

11-year-old 'consultant'

As part of their proposal, Michelle and her partner Kalkidan Assefa wanted to mark the fact that Ottawa is home to the largest Inuit population outside of Nunavut.

So they got help from 11-year-old Marcus Kisa-Gaudreau, originally from Iqaluit. Kisa-Gaudreau started off as a "consultant" but soon graduated to becoming a fully-fledged member of the team, Michelle said.

"After giving him a can, I'm scared for my job!" said Michelle. "He's going to take over soon. His skills are so good." 

Jamie Kwong, executive director of the Quartier Vanier BIA, stands in front of a four-storey mural unveiled on June 10, 2017. More than 1,000 people voted in a contest to pick the winning design for the mural. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Kisa-Gaudreau said he'd shown the pair some sketches that he'd made in his notebook beforehand, based on life back home. 

"The seal and the narwhal are good! And the lady's face is very good," he said, when asked what he thought about the mural. "I saw [those] in Nunavut."

Special exemption required

Kwong said the BIA had to get a special exemption from the city to install the mural, as Ottawa bylaws only allow for murals up to two storeys tall.

The mural will remain in place for at least five years, she said. A protective coating will soon be added so that if the work ends up being defaced, it can be easily restored.

The funding came from a neighbourhood campaign, as well as the House of Paint hip-hop festival. The BIA also offered up a significant portion of its budget to fund both the mural and Saturday's concurrent street party, Kwong said.

She said the mural perfectly captured the BIA's two goals for the project: to erect something that would be "as bold as possible" and would reflect a neighbourhood that has a significant number of both francophones and new Canadians.

"We know Vanier is a cultural mosaic. We know it's diverse with different languages, different cultures, different backgrounds of all sorts," Kwong said. "And we wanted that represented in some way."

With files from Matthew Kupfer