By Elaine Wallis
An award-winning mural in Niagara Falls, Ont., began with a look at the city’s history—and how it intersects with the present.
Having led the production and design of 11 murals throughout Canada, the United States, and Greece over the past 30 years, this article’s author was finally presented with the opportunity to paint a mural in her own town in fall of 2019. The City of Niagara Falls Downtown Arts & Culture Committee came forward in September of that year, offering funding and a blank wall in exchange for an engaging mural. However, the project had to be completed by the end of October.
This posed a challenge, as mural projects typically take months to iron out. They incorporate numerous steps—including design briefing, research, rough sketches, vetting of ideas through committees, and creation of a scale maquette—in addition to approximately one week of painting.
With just four weeks’ lead time and free rein on the mural’s subject, size, and production, it was essential for work on the project to begin immediately.
The concept for the project stemmed from a desire to explore the history of downtown Queen Street from the perspective of both the local community and the travellers who visit the famous tourist attraction of Niagara Falls. It evolved with the realization every postcard, letter, and package that arrived in or left Niagara Falls had to make its way down Queen Street to the post office.
After initially considering a vintage postcard as the mural’s subject, the author found inspiration with the discovery of a photo of a 20-cent Canada Post stamp from 1935, which features Niagara Falls. The stamp features the number 20 on each bottom corner, making 2020 a seemingly ideal time to transform it into public art.
According to Postal History Corner, in 1935, a 20-cent stamp would only be used on a parcel.1 The mural concept developed as this sparked questions about what kinds of parcels people would have mailed at that time and what letters would have accompanied them. Each parcel would tell a story, especially because 1935 was the height of the Great Depression.
With this history in mind, the author created fictitious letters, which were used to fill the etching lines in the sky and the water below the falls. This added an element of curiosity that would draw the viewer closer, pass on some history, and start a conversation.
With a short deadline and potentially difficult October weather to contend with, it was decided the mural would not be painted directly on the wall. However, painting needed to begin immediately to accommodate the tight timeline. Measurements were taken, and it was determined a 2.5 x 3.7-m (8 x 12-ft) mural would fit nicely in the allotted space. Fabricators glued three white, 6-mm (0.2-in.) aluminum composite panels (ACPs) onto an EX-7 frame using two-part epoxy and constructed a lightweight aluminum subframe that would later be installed onto the wall. This simple retrofit system is effective for non-illuminated wall signs, as it looks clean with no visible fasteners.