Sask. town using mural paintings to reinvent itself ahead of coal mine and power plant closure

Stephanie Bellefleur's mural called “Land of the Living Skies” in downtown Coronach. (Gareth Dillistone/CTV News)

The Town of Coronach is preparing to transition its identity as the coal mine and power plant are slated to close in the coming years.

The town said half of the jobs in Coronach are in coal, not including the businesses that rely on the population from the industry. As they prepare to see this identity phased out, a new one is being creating through economic development and beautification.

“We’re trying to develop a downtown core that’s attractive for businesses, attractive for residents and to draw a new life to our downtown,” said Catherine MacKay-Wilson, chief administrative officer for the Town of Coronach.

With this beautification comes community pride. MacKay-Wilson said the project has inspired many with the help of artist Stephanie Bellefleur

“We’re really fortunate to have someone local that understands the landscape, the change that we’re going through with coal transition and our goals of renewing ourselves into a new beautiful town,” she said.

Bellefleur is a contemporary visual artist from Willowbunch, Sask. who mixes fine art elements with street art culture. She describes her niche as murals and community engaged artwork.

This community engagement involves hosting workshops at the school and having the students paint two murals for the town.

“It was really important for me to allow the young youth of this community to feel like they have ownership in some sort of way to this mural,” said Bellefleur.

The “Land of the Living Skies” mural was created in collaboration with the Coronach Street Festival, SaskPower and Sask Arts.

Bellefleur creating the mural based on elements tied to the community, both from her own knowledge of living in southern Saskatchewan and from the students who attended her workshops.

It features area crops such as lentils and flax, a deer to symbolize local wildlife, and homages to the town’s transition and hope in the form of yin and yang energy and a Crocus flower.

“I actually see this as a beautiful new opportunity to say ‘OK what’s the next best thing for us,’” said Bellefleur, adding she hopes people see peace and relief in the mural.

In the design is also a personal memory for Bellefleur. The Saskatoon berries represent the first time she ever tried them was in the town.

Jacque Chabot has a farm south of Coronach and said she’s enjoyed checking in on the progress whenever she was in the area over the course of the past month.

An artist herself, Chabot said it is an “excellent idea” to involve the community in a project like this because art is needed in schools and communities.

“It’s a really, really nice addition to the Main Street in Coronach,” said Chabot.

In addition to community engagement, Bellefleur’s work also involves mentorship.

Stephanie Bellefleur (right) shows her teenage mentee, Amanda, techniques with an aerosol can. (Gareth Dillistone/CTV News)

Amanda, 15, is a young artist who lives in Coronach. who enjoyed her time working with and learning from Bellefleur.

She hopes the mural will help draw people in the the town.

“Maybe more people will come to Coronach, like start out as touring the town and want to live here,” said Amanda.

The town as three other murals, including the two Bellefleur worked on with the students. The others are located at the curling rink and on another shop, the Whistlestop Store, downtown.