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Walt Humphries’ weather-worn mural has been moved to indoor storage.

The territorial government also has plans to restore the renowned piece, once a beloved fixture at the old Stanton Territorial Hospital, that was recently found abandoned and exposed to the elements near the emergency wing of the new hospital.

“The mural is now safe inside,” Humphries, an acclaimed artist and longtime resident, told his friends and followers on Facebook Thursday. 

A few weeks ago, a friend of Humphries stumbled across the mural — a sprawling eight-and-a-half-metre-long, two-and-a-half-metre-wide painting that captures the old Stanton building along with a host of colourful characters — near the new hospital’s emergency room. It was sitting in a heap of gravel next to a stack of steel beams. 

Humphries was shocked by the discovery. As work began to decommission the old Stanton hospital, now known as the Stanton Legacy Site, Humphries said he was told the mural would be moved into storage before finding a home at new Stanton Territorial Hospital once it was up and running. It opened its doors about a year ago. The mural was nowhere to be found.

Piecing together seven panels of plywood at his trailer in Northlands, Walt Humphries painted the sprawling mural in 1992. Photo courtesy of Bill Braden.

Following news of the mural’s resting place, the department of Industry, Tourism and Investments (ITI) covered the painting with a tarp last week. It was moved to a warehouse on May 27, according to department spokesperson Greg Hanna

Hanna said in an email that the government hired a local moving company to “move the mural while exercising care and respect for the artwork to ensure it was properly handled and stored.”

Humphries completed his labour of love over two months in 1992. The mural first stood outside the old hospital — a bright and bold welcome sign for patients and visitors alike for 25 years. In 2015, it was moved “from its original outside location to a new outside location near the old hospital,” wrote Hanna. The move was necessary to facilitate the construction of the new Stanton Territorial Hospital, he stated. 

The mural was moved once again after construction work at the legacy site wrapped up this past winter – that’s when it was placed in the gravel heap. Hanna estimates the mural had been there about five months. 

Hanna said the government is committed to restoring the piece with the help of Humphries and conservation experts. That likely won’t happen until sometime this summer, when landscaping work is scheduled at the former Stanton site. Before landscaping designs are wrapped up, the contractor will consult with Humphries to come to a decision of where the mural will be re-installed. 

“As some work is likely to occur this summer and next summer as part of a phased approach, we expect the mural to be re-installed and back on display by the end of summer, 2021,” stated Hanna, adding the timeline also hinges on how much restoration work is required. 

“The GNWT is and will be continuing working with Mr. Humphries and conservation experts to determine restoration needs for the mural. We look forward to putting the mural on display again … to highlight the North’s culture and heritage,” stated Hanna. 

It ‘tells the story of Yellowknife’ 

“It ended up being a good news story,” Humphries said in an interview. “I think we caught it at the right time, but there is going to have to be a little bit of work done.” 

Based on what he’s seen, Humphries said restoration is doable. He said he thinks the GNWT will do the right thing by covering the associated costs. 

With a happy ending potentially on the horizon, Humphries said residents will enjoy seeing the mural up again. 

“I think they’ll feel good about it. I try to do art that’s good for adults and kids alike.

“I think the mural tells the story of Yellowknife, the story of the hospital,” said Humphries. 

He’d like to see more murals commissioned around town created by artists based across the territory — “something to remind them of home.” 

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Brendan Burke

As the Yellowknifer’s crime reporter, it’s my job to keep readers up to speed on all-things “cops and courts” related. From house fires and homicides to courtroom clashes, it’s my responsibility...

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