After being a one-resource community for over a century, Chemainus was up against the wall of a changing world, where new technologies and economic shifts threatened to leave this little town behind and disrupt the security of families who had depended on the forest industry all their lives.
The newly elected young Mayor of North Cowichan, Graham Bruce, was keen to encourage diversity and new directions that would keep the communities in the Chemainus and Cowichan Valleys productive and stable places to live. He knew it would depend upon the initiative of the people themselves to do something of their own volition without waiting for the government. Already, many Chemainus residents had been discussing the issues, without result.
As the 1980s dawned, Mayor Bruce invited interested business people to consider taking advantage of the provincial government’s Downtown Revitalization Program. Chemainus was the first BC community to respond, and the Chemainus Revitalization Committee was formed. The committee was made up of Graham Bruce, Alan Hussey, Rex Hollett, Sandra Heydon, Jerry Philippson, Gordon Swanson and Bill Jameson.
The “Group of Seven”, as it was dubbed – Al Johnson, Vern Kay, Joe Hudak, Bill Jameson, Jack Jameson, Joe Jeles and Tony Monco – represented the interests of the Chamber of Commerce and were the leading proponents for revitalization. They formed the core of an active group of volunteers, men and women, who envisioned a new face and expanded economic opportunities for Chemainus. They chose tourism as the best adjunct to logging in the future that they pictured for Chemainus. It seemed a natural choice to promote the logging theme. Conceptual drawings were created, showing how the Chemainus story could be portrayed in murals as part of the Downtown Revitalization Program and so bring a new look to the downtown core.
The municipality then made an inspired decision to hire Karl Schutz as the coordinator of the revitalization project. Schutz was convinced that celebrating the history and heritage of Chemainus would work wonders on the spirit of the community and attract attention from all over the world. Wisely, he insisted that recognized artists paint the murals, thereby creating a distinguished outdoor gallery.
Schutz and the “Group of Seven” launched the program that accomplished the transformation of the downtown buildings into an attractive market for visitors, as well as for artisans and other merchants. The painting of the first murals in 1982 attracted new crowds, and the artists themselves were a major part of the fascination.
Wanting a separate body to oversee and preserve the enduring legacy of the murals, Schutz pushed for the creation of the Chemainus Festival of Murals Society and became its first Executive Director. Catherine Fyffe, a third generation Chemainus resident, became the first administrator.
Schutz’s irrepressible energy earned for him inclusion among the Fifty Canadian Men of Influence for 1987. By 1988, the province recognized his contribution, not just to Chemainus, but also to Vancouver Island and BC, appointing him an Ambassador of Tourism for the province. In 1992, Her Majesty the Queen authorized a commemorative medal to mark the 125th anniversary of Confederation, honouring Canadians who have made a special contribution to their community and their country. Karl Schutz was one of those Canadians so honoured.
For more than 25 years now, the Chemainus Festival of Murals Society has been operated principally by dedicated volunteers. These unnamed individuals have been honoured by visitors from around the globe who have consistently expressed delight in their experience.
These honours are shared by all the men and women of Chemainus who have participated in making this vision a reality. The spirit of Chemainus stands as a testament of hope for all small communities in the new millennium.