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La Loche mural painted by Regina artist depicts past and present

Regina artist Josh Goff spent a week working on a mural depicting the history of La Loche, Sask. Goff collaborated with the community to best capture the past and the spirit of the northern community.

Members of the community helped with the painting's design

Leonard Montgrand says he's trying to get Josh Goff to come back up to La Loche in August. (Submitted by Carol Daniels)

It's a far cry from urban sprawl, back alleys and city billboards but rural Saskatchewan communities have been the perfect setting for a Regina-based graffiti artist.

Josh "True" Goff was contracted by the Cultural Exchange to paint a mural on the La Loche Friendship Centre. The resulting historical mural moves from the night to the day, from the past to the present.

Starting with a church, a teepee and a representation of the Hudson's Bay Company, which was a big part of post-contact La Loche life and business.

We're a community that seems to make the headlines for a lot of negativity.- Leonard Montgrand

From there the mural depicts a lake and someone fishing. Goff said he was told it was meant to represent the relationship Dene people have with nature and the northern landscape.

The community also wanted an animal on the mural, and it had to be reflective of the community. After much discussion people decided that a moose would be appropriate.

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      "It connects them to the land first of all but then it also connects to their food sources as well because a moose can feed several families for a long time," said Goff. 

      The script on the mural says "Us People" in Dene. The content for the mural was conveyed to Goff by the La Loche Friendship Centre. From there it went to a board of community members who had a say in what the mural would ultimately look like.

      "They all wanted their voice there, so there was discussion as to what would represent them best," said Goff. 

      A memorial sits in front of the school in La Loche, Sask. nearly a year after a deadly school shooting. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC)

      During Goff's week working on the mural, often putting in nine- to 10-hour days, some students from Dene High School came to him and discussed the shooting that claimed four lives.

      "I can't speak to that. I'm not from there. I'm just a guest. But I do feel that art could be a tool for them to heal and express what they're going through," said Goff. 

      Leonard Montgrand has been with the La Loche Friendship Centre for the past 12 years. When he first saw the completed mural he said he felt proud. 

      "These little things, these little sort of pieces to the puzzle, are what make our community better and stronger. And we need to be able to move forward and progress. We can't live in the past," said Montgrand. 

      Overcoming negativity 

      During the planning stages of the mural, the community decided against commemorating the school shooting. Originally a memorial with the date of the shooting was going to be incorporated into the design. 

      "I could tell the community was still hurt," said Goff. "Their reasoning for that was that it was a hard memory and I don't think they're trying to sweep it under the rug, I think what they're trying to do is create positive environment for those youth."

      "We're a community that seems to make the headlines for a lot of negativity," said Montgrand. "A lot of communities in the north have problems. They deal with suicide, alcoholism, addiction, abuse — it's all out there. But slowly things have been changing. I've seen the difference in the community."

      Montgrand said Goff being in the community was a great way to get kids and teenagers involved and active in the community. Despite the Centre's best efforts to get kids engaged and taking part in activities, not everything is a hit he said. But a graffiti artist coming to the community was pretty cool.

      "This person has agreed to come to our community to help brighten it up, make it happier, create conversation and show some historical significance back to the community members," said Montgrand. 

      "According to Josh the mural will be there for 30 years. We'll see it everyday and it will cheer people up."