September 28, 2021

Art anywhere: Fort McKay youth centre paints murals on shipping containers

A shipping container has become an opportunity for creativity and art in Fort McKay, Alta., as kids from the local youth centre helped design a mural adorning the unit.

Youth centre manager Dylan Elias said the project started when the youth centre ran out of storage space and the football team needed a spot to put equipment.

The shipping container arrived, which they saw as a big empty canvas. 

“It’s right here on the road so everyone drives by it,” said Elias. “Why not give a little taste of what we got going on in here for everyone to see?”

The ideas came from kids at the youth centre, between nine and 19 years old. 

“You can turn everything into a little bit of an art exhibit,” said Elias.

He said people have been calling him asking about the project. 

“I also see people who come from the road, I see them back up and drive up,” said Elias. “It’s definitely unique.” 

Elias said since the project started, the kids have got more creative, and are now finding other places to paint.

One side of the mural represents the youth centre’s football team. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)


Brace Grandjambe is studying art at university in Calgary. Every summer, she goes home to Fort McKay, 55 kilometres north of Fort McMurray,  to be an art camp co-ordinator. 

She used the children’s ideas and designed the mural facing the road. It hosts a wolf with a pride flag in its maw, a dragon and the word Ahkaméyimok, which translates to “don’t give up” in Cree. 

Grandjambe and art camp co-ordinator Richelle Stewart did most of the painting, but all the ideas came from the kids. 

“We got a lot of, ‘Wows,’ and I think they were super happy to see their ideas actually portrayed on a giant piece of metal that was previously blank,” said Grandjambe. 

It took about three weeks to paint the murals. 

Richelle Stewart, left, and Brace Grandjambe worked with the kids at the youth centre to create the murals. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

The other side of the shipping container was designed by Stewart. It’s the logo for the football team, which is also using the storage space. 

The team’s logo is in an ocean, because Stewart liked the pun of having the sea on a sea can. 

“We took the time to make it look nice, because I believe it’s good for the community, good for all these students to have their word and expression out there,” said Stewart.

She said she sees most blank spaces around the community as an opportunity to create art. 

The shipping container is almost complete, the last piece is a tree with leaves made from the handprints of the kids at the youth centre. The prints are in red and orange paint to represent murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, and the children in unmarked burial sites at former residential schools.

Kids at the youth centre will put orange and red handprints as leaves of the tree. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

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