Mural artist Carrielynn Victor was given free reign to do what she does best in a downtown parking lot near Five Corners this summer.
Four new murals by Victor on the exterior walls of the parkade at District 1881 were commissioned by Algra Bros. Developments.
The figures: A Stólō man with hands outstretched. An owl in flight. A frog poised to leap. A gliding merganser and her young.
“The meaning of this panel is a bit of history,” the artist said about the lone figure that represents her ancestor Louis Victor, in a red headband and sash.
The news report carried in the Chilliwack Progress from 1895 said Louis Victor was hanged for murder in a New Westminster jail. Justice was meted out on the basis of supposed eye witness testimony, from what could be seen in the dark, from a woman sitting in a boat in the river.
The family’s records of what happened suggested the sentence of death by hanging had been carried out at Five Corners.
The newspaper account stated her ancestor had been accused of killing Indian constable Siwash Peter after “drinking on the hops grounds near Cheam” and later hitting him over the head with a pole. The last line: “There was a conclusive chain of evidence and never for a moment was it doubted but that the police had the right man.”
However family records of history and cultural traditions kept at Coqualeetza counter that official version, and descendants believe that their ancestor was hanged for a crime he did not commit.
The Progress story of Jan. 23, 1895, states that Louis Victor’s last words were: “I shake hands with everybody and I know that now I am going to Heaven. Farewell.”
Right to the very end he professed his complete innocence.
The art work is already shifting the painful legacy of the official account of what happened.
“The new government imposed systems that didn’t allow for traditional medicine practitioners like my ancestor Louis Victor,” Victor explained.
The work depicts her ancestor set free in a spiritual dimension with hands outstretched wide in welcome.
Victor said the oral history passed down indicates he had been summoned to help a family across the river who had a child who’d fallen ill with small pox. The child did not survive the deadly disease despite his ministrations of traditional healing.
“Our ancestor was done wrong, and with this bit of truth our family, who I think has been affected by this false narrative, can step out of negativity they have been carrying for generations, and move forward in a good way,” Victor said, detailing some of her research.
Art has the potential to be a powerful catalyst for healing.
Victor, together with partner Deb Silver who spraypaints the geometric patterns, completed the murals after two years of planning, sketching and settling on a colour palette.
The geometric patterns that echo woven materials are a signature element found in many of Victor’s works. Here they add to the three-dimensional effect, allowing the figures to pop purposefully.
“I am looking to bring forward some truth, that my family have had in their hearts and their minds for generations.”
The timing was right, with so many Canadians trying to wrap their heads around real reconciliation, and the truths lived by Indigenous families over generations, in the wake of 215 graves recovered at Kamloops Residential school. That kicked off coast-to-coast investigations, and a paradigm shift that is still manifesting.
As people view the murals in Chilliwack, the artist said, she hopes they forge a connection with them.
“I hope people can pick a favourite and find their own connections to what they see,” Victor said.
The winged and webbed creatures would have been found in the marshland habitat of the Five Corners trail crossing.
“These are charismatic species but also the ones we should keep an eye on. The owls, because they are affected by some of the farming practices locally.”
The frog is known as timekeeper who can tell us about the seasons, and also an indicator species.
“So it’s important to protect their habitat,” she said.
Finally the merganzer family of ducks speaks to importance of looking after the children, Victor said, sometimes even caring for those that are not our own.
“These pieces can be seen as the species themselves, but people can also tap into the deeper stories.”
The imagery is quite rooted in place.
“It’s my understanding Five Corners has always been a trail crossing for the Stólō tribes,” Victor offered. “If we zoom in to what a trail crossing offers there is trade, enterprise, exchange, business, the understanding of what we’re bringing into it when we meet each other.
“Looking at the local businesses being brought in essentially to this new space, it is interesting to note what is happening here has always happened here.”
When she learned of the whole story of her own ancestor, as well as the history of hangings that took place at Five Corners as a spectator sport, she wanted not only her family members, but also the public to gain a “bit of understanding” of what it has taken away from the people, and what the people have given, and “also what the settlers have done to build this place up to what it is today,” Victor said.
The four murals wrap it all up nicely.
“This is really a fitting place to pull in together the ecological history, and the political history, and the family history, and tie them all together,” Victor said. “I laid those pieces out. Those are the elements that have become this mural series.”
Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: