Former Fort Frances native Tom Beechinor paid a nostalgic visit to the Portage Avenue entrance at Fort Frances High School earlier this week to reflect on the “Muskie” mural he painted on the wall there more than 30 years ago.
The mural will be one of several archives left behind when the building closes as a school next month.
Beechinor, now 48 and living in Toronto, was in town to celebrate his parents’ 60th wedding anniversary when he took time out to chat about the mural’s history—and how creating it helped open the door to the art world for him.
He said he took on the project in 1967 at age 16 at the encouragement of his art teacher and school principal Wilf Book, who wanted someone to paint a “Muskie” on the overhead wall leading to the gym.
“That was a beginning for me—to be able to work big. It gave me confidence,” Beechinor smiled. “I knew then that I could handle paint and colour. It was a very important piece.”
Beechinor found a picture of a muskie in an encyclopedia and using it as a reference, drew the fish to scale with help from other teens in his art class, including classmate Donna Pidlubny, now an artist with the Fort Frances Times.
“It really was a project between myself and Donna. She gave me ideas for colours,” he recalled.
“I painted the head and she painted the body [but] I didn’t like it so I went over it [all] again and I signed my name to it,” he chuckled.
“Now I’m sorry that I didn’t put Donna’s name on it [too] but, at the time, I didn’t want to share,” he admitted.
Beechinor finished the mural in the summer of 1970. After graduation, he went on to the Ontario College of Art and also garnered a Bachelor of Art degree with honours from the University of Toronto.
Although Beechinor said he did not find a long-term career in art, he did maintain it as a part of his life. In fact, he’s currently developing an interactive wall mural in the Bloor Street United Church in Toronto.
Beechinor said his ties to the part he played in creating the “Muskie” mural will always remain dear, and won’t be marred given the fact it faces an uncertain future once the building is vacated.
“I don’t want to see it destroyed but I’ve come to terms with that [possibility] and if it happens, it’s okay,” he reasoned.
Fort High principal Terry Ellwood said even though the mural would not be chiseled off the wall and moved to the new high school at Westfort, it’s importance as a school archive would be preserved in a photographic essay.
The essay will chronicle the history of Fort Frances High School at First Street East, and will be available for viewing at the school’s new location.