A little more than one hundred years ago, Beiseker – then a grain-growing and agricultural hub of the prairies – officially received its village status and was incorporated on February 23, 1921.
Since then, the village has grown in population and in heart with the addition of a local school, churches, a campground and motel, several small businesses, and even a small airport.
In preparation for its landmark centennial celebration, in 2018, the Village put together a committee to arrange a 100-year birthday bash for Beiseker that would include a parade, fireworks, barbecue, and improvements and art around town to commemorate the occasion.
According to the committee’s co-chair Shelley Schneider, the suggestion of a commemorative mural came about during deliberations about what the celebrations should include. It became the focus considering increasing public health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It became apparent that we might not be able to even host this event and we need to have some sort of legacy, and so that was when we decided to pursue the mural idea a little more seriously,” she said. “We figured at the very least, if we can’t host a live celebration, at least we’ll have some sort of legacy to commemorate the centennial."
Schneider said from the very first committee meeting in 2018, the theme of “Pioneers and Progress” helped to ground planning and discussions around the centennial celebration.
“We wanted to acknowledge the pioneers because they gave so much blood, sweat, and tears over the years,” she said. “Also, the community has changed and evolved, and we have to acknowledge what’s here now and the progress that’s been made.”
Schneider said the committee enlisted the help of an artist who shares a long history with the village to help convey their desired theme. The mural, which is located on the west side of the Beiseker Pharmacy on 1st Ave., was nearing completion as of press time, with the official unveiling set for the weekend of Jun 4 and 5.
Glen Collin, a recently retired commercial artist based just west of Airdrie, has spent his career providing signage, graphics, and murals to municipalities including Beiseker, small businesses, and even seniors' residences across the province.
He said when he first began his working relationship with the Village, he was prompted to suggest ways the Village could improve its public appearance, noting a lack of public artwork around town.
“I walked down Main Street and I took pictures of every building, and I drew up the idea of putting murals on the walls, and so I raised that idea back then and that had to be more than 20 years ago,” he said. “And so, here we are 20 years later, and I finally got a chance to do this mural.”
Collin, who has been working on the artwork since last summer, said the opportunity to complete such a meaningful mural has been a highlight of his career.
“It’s one of the best things that could happen,” he said. “I’m going to be 70 this summer, so this is something I’ve always wanted to do – it's really hard to find places to do professional artwork.”
Schneider said initial consultations with Collin included discussions of potential designs, including a large train rolling through town, the addition of grain elevators to highlight the village’s historical wheat production, and the addition of local businesses.
“He brought a few sketches to us, and the committee just unanimously fell in love with his ideas,” she said. “What you see on the side of the building now is very similar to the initial concept that he brought to us.”
According to Collin, the idea for the mural evolved to include a focus on the people of Beiseker rather than the trains and machinery that helped build the community. The mural – a compilation of old and new – includes a pioneer family on the left-hand side and the same family a century later to the right.
“Fast-forward 100 years and now here’s grandpa and grandma. They’ve worked hard and they’re looking back on the last hundred years,” he said. “It’s kind of a romantic look at that life because obviously it wasn’t very romantic, what [the pioneers] went through.”
Collin said he spent some time studying old paintings, including those of artists who would depict heroic images of mothers with their babies in their arms looking to the horizon to see their husbands return home from a long day in the fields or at sea.
“They usually presented these women standing really tall, and so I started applying that to what we were doing,” he said. “The story is about a young family. They’re starting out, they’ve got nothing.
“[The mother has] brought lunch up to the field and so then she stands and looks forward to the future and her hand is blocking the sunlight... she has an optimistic look on her face.”
He said he thinks the mural is a celebration of motherhood and a legacy to the village.
Additionally, he said he hopes the mural will help draw tourists to the small rural community.
“I'm hoping this will become a landmark for Beiseker and people will come in and stand in front of it and take family photos,” he said. “If you stand in front of it, it almost looks like you’re in the photo.”
The artist worked on the mural panel by panel in his garage, applying an average of two coats of primer and six coats of paint to each one.
“You’ll notice there’s a lot of pointillism – it's really hard to blend exterior acrylic house paint because the paint dries so quickly, so what I did to create the blend was I did little dots of colour side by side,” he said.
“Instead of blending colours, if you put two colours side by side, the human eye blends it for your and it looks brighter and more pure.”
Collin also found inspiration for his artwork from local people, places, and things including a Beiseker resident, his own daughter and granddaughter, a real-life quilted blanket and basket.
The mural includes elements of both old and new as well, including an old locomotive, local hotel, and new curling rink.
According to Schneider, the mural celebrates the theme of Pioneers and Progress, and is an important piece in commemorating the municipality’s centennial.
“I don’t think you know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been,” she said, adding her ancestors helped settle the village more than 100 years ago. “I think we just wanted to make sure that such an important event didn’t get missed.
“We need to celebrate these milestones more often – and as a community, get together and celebrate and be happy about where we’ve come from.”
Schneider added official centennial celebrations are set to go full-steam ahead June 10 to 12 thanks to the relaxing of public health restrictions. Celebrations will include fireworks, barbecues, a parade, a free concert performance, and more.