City orders Hintonburg woman to remove 2-storey bulldog mural

A Hintonburg woman who decorated her home last month with a two-storey mural of her three-year-old French bulldog has been ordered to cover it up.

Sara May had mural installed after attempt to remove graffiti went awry

A pedestrian walks past the two-storey mural that Sara May had installed in September 2018 on her Hintonburg home. The mural depicts her three-year-old French bulldog Imelda, posing with flowers. (Stu Mills/CBC)

A Hintonburg woman who's decorated her home with a two-storey mural of her dog has been ordered to either cover it up or take it down.

Sara May had the mural of her three-year-old French bulldog Imelda, posing with flowers, installed last month on the brick wall of her 117-year-old duplex after she tried to erase a graffiti tag.

The public servant said her efforts to remove the graffiti only made the problem worse. So she commissioned Ottawa muralist Rene-Pierre Beaudry, who paints under the name "Arpi," to improve things.

Beaudry​ arrived at May's Stirling Avenue home for a consultation, and when Imelda greeted him at the door, he was struck by inspiration.

The muralist completed the painting of Imelda over three days, finishing Sept. 14, with May paying for both the supplies and a stipend for the artist.

Sara May poses with her three-year-old french bulldog Imelda, whose image now graces the outside of her home in Ottawa's Hintonburg neighbourhood. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Violates city bylaws 

May said she loves the finished piece, and she's frequently complimented by people walking or driving by her home.

"I joked that last month I took a break from tattooing my body and I tattooed my house!" laughed May.

Five days after it was finished, however, someone contacted the City of Ottawa's bylaw and regulatory services department about the mural, May said. 

An inspector photographed her house two days later, May said, and on Oct. 4 she received a letter from the department telling her to either remove it or cover it up.

If I want to alter my property — particularly in an aesthetically pleasing way that is supported by my community — then I think that should be able to do that.- Sara May

The city's rules say murals in areas zoned for residential use can only appear on schools, places of worship, hospitals, libraries, daycares, recreational facilities and community centres.

"That is the most bothersome part for me: that the city is trying to tell me what I should do with my home," said May.

"If I want to alter my property — particularly in an aesthetically pleasing way that is supported by my community — then I think that should be able to do that"

'That's the whole point of art'

Beaudry said the city order has distressed him and has put a chill on further mural commissions.

"When you can transform a wall into a window into the universe of imagination, that's the whole point of art," he said. "I think it's really important for people to grow up and be exposed to creativity."

May said that her local councillor, Jeff Leiper, supports the mural and has asked the bylaw department not to enforce the order until he can bring an exemption motion to council.

Leiper confirmed in a tweet Saturday that for the time being, no enforcement would be taking place.

Ottawa muralist Rene-Pierre Beaudry, aka Arpi, chats with Sara May in front of the mural of her bulldog Imelda that he installed on her Stirling Avenue home. The City of Ottawa's bylaw department has ordered May to either remove the mural or cover it up. (Stu Mills/CBC)

While CBC News was interviewing May outside her home, Mayor Jim Watson just happened to pass by — and also appeared to give his support for the artwork.

"Is the owner of the property OK with it?" Watson asked May.

"I am the owner," she replied.

"Send me an email," Watson replied.

Mayor Jim Watson happened to pass by the home while Sara May was speaking to CBC News about the mural. He told her to send him an email about the issue. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

May said she was hopeful that with both her councillor's support and the attention of a mayor campaigning for re-election, her mural would be spared.

She also asked the mayor to create an exemption for public art on privately-owned residential spaces.

"If we're not going to put Coca-Cola logos all over it, if it's pure art, then let's look at it."

In a series of tweets Saturday, Watson said that the matter would be fixed next week and that he supported both May and "her beautiful mural."