The return of the gay cowboys

A Church Street mural project artist describes her idea

A new mural on the south side of the former Barn nightclub will pay homage to the now-blacked-out gay cowboy painting, says the co-curator of the Church Street mural project.

“I’m very excited,” says James Fowler. “Look out for the cowboys.”

Fowler, who has not yet released the names of the artists involved in the project, says they are an exceptionally diverse group. “There are trans artists, women, people of colour, different artistic ability, different physical ability, different materials, different processes. We really took the word ‘diversity’ seriously.”

Sybil Lamb is one of the artists whose proposal was approved; she excitedly leaked the news on Facebook. Lamb says she is planning an epic scene depicting what happens in the backstage area of a queer nightclub. It has the working title Backstage at Ultra Church.

Lamb plans to populate her club with 50 queer people famous for getting the party started. She threw out a few names: Michelle DuBarry, Fay Slift, Will Munro, Mandy Goodhandy and Nina Arsenault. “I want to trace the roots of the city’s theatre, drag, performance artist, late-night party, wing-nut community.”

On March 26, the project’s co-curators met with about 13 building owners to provide an update on their progress.

“These are building owners, not business owners, so they are some of the most difficult people to get a hold of,” Fowler says. “Everyone left feeling pretty good. We are trying to make sure everyone is happy by providing something for everyone’s taste. I feel very strongly about making sure everyone is represented.”

Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam first proposed the mural project in December. Since then, the curators have been collecting stories and moments from 40 years of local gay-rights history, which artists are now sketching for the murals.

“This is so much more than a mural project,” Fowler says. “This will be a big outdoor art gallery.”

The project now has a sponsor: Dulux Paint has signed on, he says. “They have invented a special mural paint.”

Fowler says the final list of artists will be released the second week of April, and the list of mural sites will be released during the official unveiling of the BIA’s rainbow gateway markers on April 14. Following that, a town hall will be held to get feedback from the community.


“We are at the design concept stage right now,” Fowler says. “We have selected the 12 finalists, so our next step is to match each artist with the building.”

Following that, the curators will bring together the artists, business owners and building owners to discuss each concept. Painting is scheduled to begin May 6.

“Everyone has a different idea of what’s tasteful and what’s not, so we don’t want to put something on a wall that causes a building owner to get flak from someone who is upset about it,” Fowler says.

David Wootton, manager of the Church Wellesley Village BIA, declined to comment on the project. Instead, Wootton responded via email, promising more information from a “communications lead.”

“Someone will be in touch next week,” he wrote. “The communications lead now in place will direct an appointed person to speak with you.”

Fowler says he hopes the murals will remain on Village walls after WorldPride.

“It’s great to get Church Street ready for WorldPride, to have that legacy,” he says. “But what happens after WorldPride is gone? We want to make sure this lasts. We are taking conservation into account. We don’t want the murals to start peeling in a couple years. We are being told that the paint we are using will hold up 15 to 20 years.”

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