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Scope of Salish Heron ferry design captivates artist

Seeing the final product for the first time inspiring
Maynard Johnny Jr. looks over the Salish Heron at BC Ferries Fleet Maintenance Unit in Richmond. (Photo by BC Ferries)

Seeing his design on the side of the BC Ferries vessel the Salish Heron for the first time put everything into perspective for Maynard Johnny Jr.

The Penelakut Tribe member and renowned Coast Salish artist was at BC Ferries’ fleet maintenance unit yard in Richmond last week with his daughter and grandson to view the artwork on the ferry. The enormity of it captivated him right away, considering his project started out as a six inch by two inch sketch.

“I was totally amazed how they could make it on such a large scale,” Johnny conceded. “To see my work that large was cool.”

The visit was documented, along with filming done in his Duncan studio, for a YouTube video.

The wings, tail and beak of Johnny’s Salish Heron design are essentially the size of a seven storey building laid on its side and replicated around the expansive hull of the ship. It left a massive impression with him and his family.

BC Ferries put out the call last summer for designs to grace the Salish Heron. Thirty-six artists made submissions, narrowed down to a short list of six before Johnny’s concept was selected in late September.

Related story: Coast Salish artist’s colourful design selected for newest BC Ferries vessel

Related story: BC Ferries unveils Indigenous design for next Salish Class vessel

The new BC Ferries vessel was built in Poland and is part of a fleet that includes the Salish Orca, Salish Raven and Salish Eagle. The design for the Salish Eagle was done by another local artist, John Marston of the Stz’uminus First Nation.

The other three vessels are already in service. The Salish Heron is due to go into service soon, operating between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay and within the Southern Gulf Islands.

Johnny knows this project will stand as a legacy not only to himself and his family, but to Indigenous people as a whole in many ways along the Truth and Reconciliation path.

“I’m proud of this accomplishment and hope it inspires awareness of the first peoples of this territory and also create the desire to learn about the history,” he indicated. “There’s a lot of misconceptions of the way things are for Indigenous people.

“Of course, I think about my grandkids and hopefully I’m around for my great grandkids. That’s the legacy I want to leave. In the last 10 years, my art allows me to get into places I wouldn’t be able to before.

“My goal is to keep moving forward and keep creating awareness so we can all heal.”

Johnny Jr. was born in 1973 in Campbell River and has Coast Salish descent on his father’s side from Penelakut Island and Kwakwaka’wakw on his mother’s side from Cape Mudge on Quadra Island. He spent time as a youth in Washington state before returning to Canada.

Johnny is primarily a self-taught artist. He’s been studying and perfecting his craft since the age of 17.

Johnny’s desire to continually evolve as an artist knows no bounds. It’s been a busy past year for him that’s also included an appearance on the Still Standing CBC TV show segment on Chemainus to talk about an archway project for Waterwheel Park and he also has a Chemainus mural in the works called Rebirth that will be installed in the summer.

“My first thought process is what else could I do?” Johnny conceded. “I’m trying to figure out what else I can do and take my work to another level, do something no one else has done.”


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Maynard Johnny Jr. with daughter Anola Johnny and grandson in front of the Salish Heron. (Photo by BC Ferries)
Maynard Johnny Jr.’s design on the side of the Salish Heron. (Photo by BC Ferries)

Don Bodger

About the Author: Don Bodger

I've been a part of the newspaper industry since 1980 when I began on a part-time basis covering sports for the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle.
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