THUNDER BAY — Two budding artists from the town of Marathon have transformed a historic building in Thunder Bay's East End into a vibrant mural that's receiving rave reviews in the neighbourhood and on social media.
"We certainly felt a lot of love in Thunder Bay this weekend," the husband and wife team of Derek Thomson and Candace Deschamps said in a social media post.
Their efforts have dramatically changed the appearance of a two-storey brick building at McTavish and McNaughton Streets.
The colourful mural is comprised of several sections, including the Ukrainian flag, the Rainbow flag, a tribute to the area's Indigenous people, and inspiring messages.
Thomson, who uses the moniker AbraxaN for his street art, says the design is meant to represent unity in Thunder Bay while also bringing some vibrancy to the East End.
"We'd also like to inspire other artists to continue to contribute positively to the community, and to inspire the next generation," he said. "To see that it has had such a positive ripple effect right away, it means the world to us and encourages us to keep doing what we're doing."
Thomson believes it is one of the largest single murals anywhere in Northern Ontario.
He and Deschamps – whose moniker is CJD – worked Saturday, Sunday and part of Monday to complete the work, using special paint that dries quickly and is very durable.
Beforehand, however, they had to undergo some training to receive certification for working at heights, take fall-arrest instruction, and learn how to operate a mobile lift to negate the need for scaffolding.
Building owners Kyle and Tracey Vescio purchased it in early 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The former boarding house currently has two apartments on the main floor, but they hope to do renovations and find tenants for the second level as well.
Neighbours have told them it's one of the original buildings in Thunder Bay and that it used to be a cafe.
"Apparently people used to come to the port there, and they'd eat, sleep upstairs, and then go and find work," Tracey Vescio said.
Her husband has lived in the East End most of his life, while she's resided there for 28 years.
"We thought we'd start with the outside of the building. We just wanted to give back to the community and brighten the place up."
The couple has been overwhelmed by the response to the mural.
"We have received texts and calls, and the Facebook stuff has just kind of gone crazy," Vescio said.
One of the most impactful reactions came from a neighbour who reached out Saturday after Thomson and Deschamps started to work.
"She said 'Thank you so much. This just makes my heart happy.' That was the very first response we received. It's all been fantastic."
Vescio added that although she and her husband had some input into the design "we kind of let them do their own thing. We are very happy with it."
She said she hopes the publicity the project is getting will motivate other building owners in Thunder Bay to spruce up their properties.
At the same time, it could lead to more work for the two artists.
Thomson and Deschamps have two young children.
They first started doing murals in the Marathon area a couple of years ago, mostly with chalk, and mostly with children in mind.
Deschamps described the reaction of East End residents to their work as heartwarming and encouraging, saying the couple has "taken a chance" with a career in art.
"It began at the start of the pandemic. We kind of reevaluated our lives and what was important to us. Deep down inside, we were artists since we were kids. When push came to shove, we said 'Let's do what we love, and see what happens.' "