By Susan Bondar
Glenn Hilke and his wife Heidi Coleman lived in Montreal when ‘The Great Millennium Wall of Canada’ project was conceptualized, developed and delivered. Glen was the founder and Executive Director of Montreal’s Open City Productions.
Open City began in 1992 as a local not for profit arts organization. They had a creative art component at the centre of all their projects. Eventually they expanded their base of operations to include a Canadian mural making project which became The Great Millennium Wall of Canada.
The concept was developed in 1998. A proposal was written to the Federal Government and was approved in late 1999. The idea was to acquire 2,000 murals that would be displayed on Parliament Hill to celebrate the millennium on Canada Day.
The mural making project was to touch all across Canada.
Open City Productions, partnered with public schools, community organizations, governments, foundations, arts and culture groups to get the word out to have communities participate in the project.
The mural was to include the art of three or more people and be returned within three months. The communities that chose to participate would pay $100 for the kit which included: the prepared canvas, paint brushes and paint, sent to the communities in a cardboard tube. In the end, Open City Productions received 1,850 murals.
The Great Millennium Wall of Canada was a massive exhibit. The murals were 8’ x 5’ and displayed in a triangular shape, two high on the lawns of the Parliament Buildings. There were so many murals that other buildings in the area had to be used for the display. The murals had several common themes such as; history, nature, wildlife, Aids, landscape, etc. In all, the mural making project was a huge success.
Open City Productions was overwhelmed with the quantity and quality of the murals they received. Whenever a cardboard tube arrived at the offices, all the staff would gather around in anticipation of the treasures inside.
The community of Barriere participated in the mural making project. Glenn said that when the mural arrived from Barriere and was opened, everyone was amazed at the quality of the work and the uniqueness of the collage with leather added into the canvas. It was by far one of the favourites.
Once The Great Millennium Wall of Canada project ended, the murals were sent back to the communities that had requested them returned. Other murals were used as a community art bank for groups that wished to borrow them for various events.
The Barriere mural was hung in the Children’s Hospital in Montreal where Heidi worked and where many people could enjoy the mural.
At one time, several of the murals were being prepared for shipping for an event when a fire broke out in the offices of Open City Productions. Many murals were smoke damaged. The Barriere mural was saved from that fate as it was still hanging in the Children’s Hospital at the time.
Glenn Hilke and Heidi Coleman eventually moved from Montreal to Kamloops, where Heidi is the Chair of the Royal Inland Hospital Foundation, and the couple brought the Barriere mural with them.
At some point, Glenn and Heidi found out that Barriere was close by and offered to return the mural to the community where it originated. In investigating the process of returning the mural the couple decided that the best place for the mural to be displayed would be in the North Thompson Agriplex, where people from all over Canada and the U.S. will have an opportunity to enjoy this beautiful and unique work and the history of the valley that it displays.
On Sunday, Aug. 31, at 11 a.m. in the North Thompson Fall Fair and Rodeo event in Barriere, the Barriere mural will be officially turned over to the North Thompson Fall Fair and Rodeo Association to be permanently displayed in the North Thompson Agriplex. The ceremony will take place in the Agriplex banquet hall at 11 a.m. to welcome home this wonderful piece of artwork after its 14 year hiatus. It is expected that a number of the artists who created the mural will be in attendance at the ceremony.