One of Sherbrooke's most recently developed attractions -- and certainly one of the most colourful ways that the city has spruced itself up over the past few years -- is the collection of eleven (so far) larger-than-life, tromp-l'oeil murals that have appeared over the past decade on vacant walls in and around the old downtown core.
The first of Sherbrooke's murals, dubbed the Bicentennial Mural, was completed back in 2002 as part of the city's 200th anniversary celebrations. Since then, ten more murals have appeared at various locations, and at a rate of at least one per year. The program is ongoing.
The work of highly skilled local artists, the murals are planned, executed and managed by a non-profit organization called Murales urbaines à revitalisation d'immeubles et de réconciliation sociale (M.U.R.I.R.S.).
The threefold mission of M.U.R.I.R.S. consists of creating "the largest open-air art gallery in Quebec; promoting the architecture, history and culture of Sherbrooke and the Eastern Townships; and developing a tourist circuit of murals located in Sherbrooke's downtown core."
Taking their cue from the Bicentennial Mural, which is situated at the corner of Dufferin and Frontenac streets, and which depicts a "snapshot" of life in Sherbrooke at 2 o'clock one sunny summer afternoon in 1902, succeeding murals have all been large in scale, and most cover entire two- or three-storey walls. Each one depicts a different period, institution, event or landscape that has been important in Sherbrooke's history.
"Once Upon a Time in the East" is a vast mural located at the corner of King East and Bowen streets. Measuring 20.7 metres (68 feet) wide and 11.3 metres (37 feet) high, it depicts life in the east part of the city c.1930.
Encompassing an entire three-storey wall, this mural is spectacular and full of life. And, like all of Sherbrooke's murals, it has lots of things to discover, not least of which are the host of little interactions between the people depicted at street level or looking out of upper-floor windows. Viewers are never bored.
Immediately adjacent to this mural, on a wall built at a right angle to this one, is "Progress of the East." This equally vast work of outdoor art depicts the city at the end of the nineteenth century. There are horses and buggies, dirt streets, storefronts and, as always, lots of action.
Not far away, on Bowen North, is "Legends and Mena'sen." Unveiled in 2010, this is one of Sherbrooke's most unusual murals to date. "Legends and Mena'sen" depicts a view of the famous "Lone Pine" on a rock in the middle of the St. Francis River. On each side of the "canvas," Native Indians pull back a "curtain" that has been painted to resemble the bricks of a building. Revealed beyond is a placid scene of people camped by the river bank, with the Lone Pine in the distance.
"Nékitotegwak" is a superb landscape that features a view of the Magog River Falls. Painted onto a vacant wall overlooking Wellington North, the falls, pristine and as-yet untapped for their power-generating capacity, tumble towards the street through a faux-brick archway.
"Tradition and Prevention" is another fine mural. Located at 275 Marquette Street, this three-story chef-d'oeuvre is a lively rendition of a 1967 fire and police station. Here we find an off-duty fireman polishing a fire engine, children sliding down a fire pole, dogs eying a fire hydrant, and policemen hanging out of upper storey windows. A banner above the faux third-floor windows reads "Venez rencontrer notre pompier d'un jour."
Viewed either individually or as a group, Sherbrooke's murals are a must-see. By foot, a tour of all eleven should take at least a couple of hours, a bit less if one is driving.
Pamphlets with descriptions and photos of each mural, along with directions are and a map, are available at outlets around the city. They may also be found on-line at www.murirs.qc.ca. For more information, call Tourisme Sherbrooke at (819) 821-1919.
To view a photo gallery of these murals, click here: