Enormity of Salish Heron Ferry Design Captivates Artist – Smithers Interior News

Seeing his design on the side of the BC Ferries ship, the Salish Heron, for the first time put everything into perspective for Maynard Johnny Jr.

The Penelakut tribesman and renowned Coast Salish artist was at the BC Ferries Fleet Maintenance Unit yard in Richmond last week with his daughter and grandson to view the artwork on the ferry. The enormity of it immediately captivated him, considering his project had started as a six-inch-by-two-inch sketch.

“I was totally amazed how they could do it on such a large scale,” Johnny conceded. “Seeing my work this big was cool.”

The visit was documented, along with the filming done at his Duncan studio, for a YouTube video.

The wings, tail, and beak of Johnny’s Salish Heron design are essentially the size of a seven-story building laid on its side and replicated around the ship’s expansive hull. It left a huge impression on him and his family.

Last summer, BC Ferries issued a call for projects to adorn the Salish Heron. Thirty-six artists submitted proposals, whittled down to a short list of six before Johnny’s concept was selected in late September.

BC Ferries’ new ship was built in Poland and is part of a fleet that includes the Salish Orca, Salish Raven and Salish Eagle. The Salish eagle design was done by another local artist, John Marston of the Stz’uminus First Nation.

The other three ships are already in service. The Salish Heron is expected to enter service soon, operating between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay and the southern Gulf Islands.

Johnny knows that this project will be a legacy not just for himself and his family, but for Indigenous peoples as a whole in many ways on the path to truth and reconciliation.

“I am proud of this achievement and I hope it will inspire awareness among the first peoples of this territory and also arouse the desire to know its history,” he said. “There are a lot of misconceptions about how things are for Indigenous people.

“Of course, I think of my grandchildren and I hope that I am there for my great-grandchildren. This is the legacy I want to leave. Over the past 10 years, my art has left me allowed access to places I could not reach before.

“My goal is to keep moving forward and to keep raising awareness so we can all heal.”

Johnny Jr. was born in 1973 in Campbell River and has Coast Salish descent from his father’s side of Penelakut Island and Kwakwaka’wakw from his mother’s side of Cape Mudge on Quadra Island. He spent time in his youth in Washington State before returning to Canada.

Johnny is above all a self-taught artist. He has been studying and perfecting his craft since the age of 17.

Johnny’s desire to continually evolve as an artist knows no bounds. It’s been a busy year for him which has also included an appearance on the Still Standing CBC TV show segment on Chemainus to talk about an arch project for Waterwheel Park and he also has an ongoing Chemainus mural called Rebirth which will be installed in the summer.

“My first thought is what else could I do?” Johnny conceded. “I try to figure out what else I can do and take my work to another level, to do something that no one else has done.”


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Maynard Johnny Jr. with his daughter Anola Johnny and grandson in front of the Salish Heron.  (Photo by BC Ferries)

Maynard Johnny Jr. with his daughter Anola Johnny and grandson in front of the Salish Heron. (Photo by BC Ferries)

Drawing by Maynard Johnny Jr. on the side of the Salish heron.  (Photo by BC Ferries)

Drawing by Maynard Johnny Jr. on the side of the Salish Heron. (Photo by BC Ferries)

Betty K. Park