A ‘welcome’ addition in Crystal Falls

(L-R) West Nipissing mayor Kathleen Thorne Rochon, Ward 5 councillor Kati Nicol, and artist Howard Longfellow were evidently thrilled to unveil the new municipal welcome sign in Crystal Falls.

Christian Gammon-Roy


Residents of Crystal Falls finally got their new municipal welcome sign on July 19th. The sign is the newest in a series of municipal welcome signs designed by local artist Howard Longfellow of Field, who started the project 7 years ago. “We started in 2016, where we did the first four of them, Cache Bay, River Valley, Verner and Field,” he describes. The sign is replacing the old saw blade sign on the corner of Crystal Falls Road and Tomiko Road.

Residents of the area did have an opportunity to provide input on the design. “The Crystal Falls Welcome Sign Project officially kicked off in July of 2022 with consultations with community members and businesses asked to share their memories, landmarks, and ideas on how to best represent Crystal Falls and its history,” explains Kassandre Girard, Economic Development Officer with the municipality. Longfellow credits Girard for not only holding community consultations to get ideas from residents about what would go on the sign, but also for doing historical research. Of course, the artist did take some creative liberties as well, feeling particularly inspired for this sign.

“This one here is at a garden location, and people would walk up to look at it. I spent way more time than I anticipated I would to do it, but it just seemed worth it,” describes Longfellow. The other signs being on highways meant that he tried to stay away from minute details, but the Crystal Falls sign gave him an “opportunity to dive into the details and really have fun with it.” When asked to estimate how much time he invested, he simply doesn’t know. “It’s my community and I want to give back. I’m thankful to the municipality for giving me this opportunity to do this. So, to show my gratitude I just pour in the time. They give me the creative freedom, I follow whatever the community consultation comes up with, and I just run with it. Time isn’t really a factor.”

The artist does say he spent many hours on the hydroelectric station, featured in the bottom right corner of the work, and admits having done and redone the water several times until he was finally satisfied.

The sign is a veritable artistic collage of landmarks and ideas that represent Crystal Falls. The depiction of the Sturgeon River helps serve as the guide for your eyes to follow as it goes from one image to the next. There are cottages, a beaver dam, log drivers, and so many more iconic things, but taking up nearly a quarter of the sign, it’s the great blue heron which is sure to be the first thing to catch anyone’s eye.

Longfellow explains the presence of the heron as being the representation of hunting and fishing, which kept coming back in every consultation session for each of the communities. In the previous projects, he simply hid hunters in the bushes. This time he wanted to do something a little different, and inspiration struck him unexpectedly one day. “I’m looking out of my studio window, we’re in a little bay, and across the bay there’s a great blue heron slowly hunting. He’s going along the shoreline, and I just stood there and watched him do his thing, and I was like ‘he’s hunting and fishing all at the same time!’” He hopes other people will appreciate the meaning when they see it.

Longfellow explains his process, saying he begins with keywords and phrases that came up during consultations. “Every single one of [the signs] started as sketches in a sketchbook and taking these ideas and coming up with ways to represent them. I’ve got a collection of sketches for every single one of them,” he says. The sketches are then refined, scanned, and uploaded into Photoshop where the now-digital collages are sent to the municipality for approval. Once approved, Longfellow layers on colours and more details until he’s satisfied with the final product, and it goes into the final composition. Finally, it’s ready to be put on a sign, and Longfellow explains the process of making a sign that can withstand the elements. “It’s printed with outdoor UV protected inks, and then laminated with a UV protectant laminate. The signs are on a composite substrate; it’s like 2 really, really thin layers of aluminium with PVC sandwiched in. It’s a really cool product, it’s got a really long lifespan.” The sun will still eventually bleach the ink, and Longfellow mentions that the Cache Bay sign is not as vibrant as it was when it was first unveiled, but adds that it’s holding up well considering it’s now 7 years old.

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