CANMORE – Five poppies helped to foster more than just a sense of community.
The Royal Canadian Legion Three Sisters Branch in Canmore recently received a pop of colour to its facade, thanks to the addition of a mural composed of five poppies.
The poppies were painted by artist Libby Amber Pryor and more than 15 participants from the Bow Valley Connections Centre (BVCC) as part of the Town of Canmore’s Building Neighbourhoods Builds Community Project.
The BVCC’s aim is to socially connect persons with developmental disabilities in the community.
BVCC president Dorothy Staniforth wanted to apply for the community art project grant as a way to allow the participants to create something together and to have community inclusion.
“Our participants in BVCC have so many different abilities," said Staniforth. “We were originally thinking of doing a skit we could present or a dance – we have two Special Olympians in the group – so we were thinking of something along those lines.”
Staniforth contacted the vice-president of the Canmore Legion, Joanne Nachtigahl, about collaborating with the group. Since 2013, the BVCC has been hosting its meetings at the Legion.
“That’s what the Legion is all about – is to be able to support different parts of our community,” said Nachtigahl.
She said when Staniforth had approached her about getting involved with the project, she suggested painting a mural.
“Joanne said a mural and we went ‘wow that’s perfect,’ ” said Staniforth.
Before the Building Neighbourhoods Builds Community Project got underway, Pryor had been chosen by the Legion to paint a mural on the south face of the building, but those plans were put on the back burner due to COVID-19.
With the support of BVCC and the Legion, Pryor successfully submitted her plan for the mural and received the $3,500 grant from the town.
“Everything just fell into place; we had to pinch ourselves,” said Staniforth.
With the grant secured, Pryor got to work on making the art process accessible for the BVCC participants.
In the past, Pryor has worked with students who have physical or developmental disabilities as a volunteer artist educator in schools. She said it “just made sense” to work with the BVCC on this project.
“In my own experience growing up, I got to experience in school how in the arts, there was no right or wrong way to do something – everyone can be set up for success in the arts,” said Pryor.
“For people with developmental disabilities, it’s a great opportunity for them to express themselves, to help build confidence, help be mindful and all these different benefits.”
Pryor created stencils of the poppies for the participants to paint within, which had the benefit of accommodating the different skillsets of the many different hands working on the project and to create a unified look.
Pryor said the input from the participants was vital to the success of the mural.
“We talked about how do we incorporate different colours in poppies and the details like the fibres coming off the stem or veins in the leaves," she said. "It was a way to teach them about the stages of painting.”
The entirety of the project was documented by Canmore filmmaker Seth Williams and premiered at the Legion following the Remembrance Day ceremony.
“For me, this project was a real eye-opener,” said Williams.
“It’s not so much about how can your community accommodate persons with developmental disabilities, but about how people with developmental disabilities are already getting on with things themselves and the fact that they are actively part of the community and giving back.”
Williams said while many of the participants were not artistically inclined, they thoroughly enjoyed working on the project as a way to pay tribute to the veterans and as a way to thank the Legion, where they have been meeting for the past seven years.
Staniforth said the project did more for BVCC participants than she could have hoped for.
“All I was thinking about is that this would be an opportunity for us to have community inclusion, but I had no idea it would be so beneficial," said Staniforth. "There were so many great connections made, and everyone is so proud of what they have done.”
Moving forward, the BVCC will continue to work with Pryor in developing personal art projects with the possibility of hosting a gala of all the participants' work.
Williams has also expressed his interest in continuing to explore the positive impact that participants from the BVCC have on the community.
“This project was the perfect stepping stone to teach our participants that they can create something and I am so grateful for all the new opportunities it has presented for them,” said Staniforth.