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MONTREAL,  NOVEMBER 11, 2008 -   There may be poverty, gang violence, and raw feelings about a summer police shooting in Montreal North, but representatives from two elementary schools also believe there is hope.
This week, 30 French and English elementary students from the English Montreal School Board’s (EMSB) Gerald McShane and École Jules Vernes of La Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l'Ile (CSPI),   are building a clay mural for the  Montreal North  Community Centre. “The project has been initiated to meet an obvious need for the kids of the neighbourhood to make sense of the recent events and build a new understanding of how they can live in peace together” says  Gerald McShane  Principal Evelyne Alfonsi, one of the first proponents of the project.

Every day, through the classroom window, Michael Pellegrin’s Grade 6 students at Gerald McShane School can see the flowers, candles and writings laying against a tree in memory of Freddy Villenueva’s recent shooting. “Our community may be struggling to deal with gangs, racial tension, and most recently with a police shooting, but the students from our school and from Jules Verne’s are determined to come together to show that there is hope” explained the teacher.

During the week the  students will discuss values of community and friendship, and once these ideas take clear shape in their minds, they will shape them into clay. The project aims to bring together the students from the mostly Italian English community and the mostly French Haitian black community to get to know each other, bond, and build relationships. Lynda Faulks, a renowned artist from British Columbia who specializes in large collective clay murals, is guiding the students this week in designing their unique clay plaque, which will be dried and then fired to become ceramic. In May, the artist will return to Montreal for another week to round off the activity with the children, and help them apply the finishing touches to their work. The plaques will then be framed and mounted as one mural on the wall of the Montreal North Community Center. The wall gives onto Rolland Street where some of the most violent rioting took place this summer.

Ms. Faulks has worked with students in communities as far north as Goosebay, Labrador and as far east as Japan.  “Once you see the excitement that this generates, and the self-esteem that this builds, you can’t help but be hooked on the idea of making murals”, expressed Ms. Faulks.

”For the last while, we have been looking for ways to bring students with different cultures together,” says Ms. Alfonsi. “I got on the phone with the principal of École Jules Vernes across the road and agreed with her that we had an amazing opportunity.”  

To be accepted into the project, students were interviewed to find out what their motivations were for being in the project. “Students expressed their desire to create, to work with art, and, of course, to miss a little class” expressed Jules Verne’s Principal, Claire Stabile. “What was common to all of the interviews was the desire to do something valuable and permanent for the community.”

Once the two schools banded together, finding money to help pay for the endeavour was quickly resolved by EMSB Commissioner and Vice Chair Sylvia Lo Bianco. She communicated with the borough of Montreal North which quickly saw the merit of the project and worked hard to find a meaningful venue for the work of art. The principals of the two schools are also applying to different organizations for money to pay for the project.


Michael J. Cohen
Communications and Marketing Specialist
English Montreal School Board
Tel: (514) 483-7200 ext. 7243
Fax: (514) 483-7213