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Memorable mural lost to modernization

Saturday, 02 September 2017. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Memorable mural lost to modernization
Designed by Sherry Chanin and painted with the help of over 30 volunteers, the mural at St. Michael’s School adorned a wall of the original gym for eight years.  Photo by Jessica Maunsell

Memorable mural lost to modernization

By Tyler Ryan

On June 26, 2010, about 300 volunteers from Pincher Creek and Crowsnest Pass came together to build the Hank Planger Memorial Playground at St. Michael’s school in one day.

The park was named in honour of Pincher Creek’s own Henry (Hank) Planger, who served in the Second World War with the 1st Special Service Force — also known as the Devil’s Brigade.

With the new park came a giant mural inspired by Alice in Wonderland, Scripture and local history, all painted onto the bricks of the original gym. The mural was designed by Sherry Chanin, a teacher from Crowsnest Consolidated High School. It required over 30 volunteers and several weeks to complete.

The gym that showcased the mural was built in 1957 and was located on the north side of the school.

Change was on the horizon in December 2014, when representatives of St. Michael’s School and the Holy Spirit Roman Catholic School Division showed off an $11.5 million three-phase modernization project, approved by Alberta Infrastructure.

In order to proceed with the project, the size of the building would need to be reduced to reflect the number of students filling its desks.

That led to the demolition of the original gym and the mural becoming an unintended casualty.

Attempts were made to save the gym and the handpainted mural, but on Aug. 14, 2017, the bricks began to come down. Within days, the gym was no longer standing and painted debris littered the site.

Ron Schmidt and his daughter Chelan Citrigno are two of the people who wished to save the mural and the gym from demolition.

Mrs. Citrigno was part of the committee that helped organize the efforts to build the playground and mural in 2010.  

She has lived in Pincher Creek since she was a child.

“I went to school there, ate my lunches every day in that gym,” she says. “I had all my gym classes there when I was a young kid, and my kids are now attending that school.”

Mrs. Citrigno acknowledges the demolition is in the name of progress, but the mural and the gym had strong sentimental value for her and many others in Pincher Creek.

“It was a very emotional day for me when I saw photos of [the demolition] and it made me sad,” she says.

Mr. Schmidt is a member of the Pincher Creek Knights of Columbus, which attempted to save the structure. The goal was to eventually renovate it into a meeting place for the Knights.

However, the religious organization had trouble getting enough support from the higher echelons of the parish. The organization wrote many letters to the Diocese of Calgary asking for assistance, Mr. Schmidt says, but their pleas “fell on deaf ears.”

When asked why the higher religious authorities would not help out, he says, “I don’t know what their answers were. They never divulged anything to us. We tried to meet with them and we never even got a response back to several emails or phone calls.”

Despite their efforts, the Knights of Columbus were not able to save the building and Mr. Schmidt could not hide his disappointment.

“It’s another sad piece of Pincher Creek history gone and it’s going to be forgotten,” he says.

In a voice mail received by Shootin’ the Breeze, Alejandro Henao, executive director of the Diocese of Calgary, says the diocese “has no authority over the facility of the school.”

He points out that the school division operates separately from the church.

Rev. Silvano Vargas, pastor of St. Michael’s parish, echoes Mr. Henao, saying, “The church does not have any jurisdiction on the school. We’re very much apart from what the schools decide.”  

“The only thing that I get involved in is more of the spiritual and moral formation of the kids,” he says.

Tina Delinte, incoming principal St. Michael’s, says the modernization project gives the school a much-needed update.

“Phase 1 included the demolition of part of what was the existing high school,” she says. “Phase 2 was updating the south end of the building. And Phase 3 included the updating ... of the north half of the building with the demolition of the extreme north end.”

She says sliding glass partition doors have been added to some of the classrooms in order to provide opportunities for different styles of learning and to accommodate groups of students across all ages.

The heating and air exchange have been updated, and larger windows that allow more natural light have been installed in the classrooms.

Mrs. Delinte says the project is “generally updating St. Michael’s School to bring it up to code and make it a new learning place.”

The final phase of the modernization will not be completed by the start of the new school year because there will be additional landscaping projects on the grounds.

However, St. Michael’s will be open for the first day of classes on Sept. 5.  

Mrs. Delinte says the community is invited to the school on Sept. 29 for a rededication ceremony that will allow people to observe the changes.

Representatives from Alberta Infrastructure, the Holy Spirit School Division, the Town and MD of Pincher Creek, and the Piikani First Nation will be in attendance.

Efforts to revive the mural are currently on the table but there are no solid plans yet.

Mrs. Citrigno says the playground committee is hoping to get a canvas printed with the original mural into the school or maybe repaint a different part of the school.

Both Mr. Schmidt and Mrs. Delinte say they would support efforts to bring back the mural but they would need more concrete details before any printing or painting would get done.

But what does Sherry Chanin, the artist who created the mural, have to say about all of this?

“Things happen in their time,” Mrs. Chanin says. “You only have that point in time in the moment and then that moment’s gone.”

She would prefer to see a brand-new mural go up to celebrate where the current students are at in their lives.

“I do mourn the loss and it was a lot of hard work. But at the same time, I would always encourage people to look to the future, not the past, and to focus on where they’re at right now,” she says.

“I really think it should be the kids coming together and creating a mural that represents them.”

20170814 St Mikes Mural Destruction1 TR
On Aug. 14 the original gym at St. Michael’s school was demolished to go ahead with a multimillion-dollar modernization project. A casualty was the wall mural painted in 2010.   
Photo by Tyler Ryan

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From the August 30, 2017 print edition of Shootin’ the Breeze.
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