Murals arrive from Manitoba to beautify Sturgeon Falls


Artist feels connection to community of WN

Isabel Mosseler


Last week, Marcel Fortin made the long trek from Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba to Sturgeon Falls to drop off two spectacular murals for the Sturgeon Falls Downtown Beautification Mural Project. On Sunday afternoon his two murals, one of a moose and the other of a Northern Pike, were mounted on the fence at Sonia’s Patio, facing the municipal fountain. The event was celebrated with the presence of Fortin’s West Nipissing relatives, who came to honour his notable contribution to this ongoing project. What compelled this artist from Manitoba to travel such a great distance and contribute? Fortin has roots and sweet memories in Field, his mother was celebrating her birthday in North Bay, and a good part of his family remains in West Nipissing. He greatly admires the project undertaken by Gayle Primeau to brighten the streets of Sturgeon Falls. He’s a dedicated artist who has spent years refining his abilities, and he wanted to share that honed talent.

Marcel Fortin isn’t the most talkative guy. He’s an outdoorsman, and an artist, and kind of quiet. He’s been a member of the WN Art Gallery Facebook page for years, has shared several of his paintings online, and has gathered an ardent following in West Nipissing. His social media page includes some lovely and reminiscent renditions of the town of Field, one of which hangs in the seniors’ housing facility in Field. “I was born in Sturgeon Falls in 1967,” he said during a telephone interview. “We lived in Field until I was about six years old, I believe. Then we moved to North Bay. My dad did all his work in North Bay. When I was about 25, I moved to British Columbia.” Fortin worked in construction. He met his wife in BC. She was originally from Lac du Bonnet in Manitoba, “which is where we live now.”

It seems that Fortin didn’t live in Field for that long, but he seems to have retained a deep connection with that community. Why? “My grandparents lived there. And I have an uncle that still lives there.” Field is a place he always returns to, some ancestral tie that keeps a corner of his heart. “Yes, yes,” he admits. “I never wanted to leave.” Fortin was very fond of his grandparents, his relatives, the place he came from. That love translates into his art, realistic renditions of the old town, of his love for history, his love of nature. Fortin uses old photos, or photos people send him, and builds his paintings from these reference points. “Usually, I take a picture, or somebody sends me a picture, and I just do it,” he says. “When I first started, when I was younger, I did a lot of drawing. I first started with water colours, and then I would watch Bob Ross on Sunday mornings on TV and learned a lot from him.”

Fortin is, fundamentally, self-taught. He’s never been to art school or had any instruction. He started drafting with pencil, moved from drawing to water colour, to oils – his favourite medium. He receives many commissions, of sceneries, of pets – dogs and cats. Art is not his primary source of income; it is more of a private enterprise, contemplative, peaceful, and kind of consuming – he spends a lot of his time on his passion. 

What inspired him to make this grand contribution to Sturgeon Falls? “The lady. Gayle Primeau,” he responds. He jokes, “She’s been harassing me. …It’s been like, three years she’s been asking me and I just, you know, it’s just difficult to do… This year I just gave in and ‘OK, I’ll do it.’” You can tell Fortin is a bit tongue-in-cheek, because he not only “did it”, he did it twice! Two murals is quite the commission, volunteering his time – a gift from Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba to Sturgeon Falls. “Well, I have a lot of people following me from Sturgeon. They like my work. [It’s] something to give back to the community, too.”

Fortin had last been to West Nipissing two years ago. It’s not like he travels back and forth a lot. He likes to visit his mom in North Bay at least once every two years. This year he combined his mom’s birthday visit with his gift to the community. 

He explains why he painted a Northern Pike. “Well, my first idea was to do a sturgeon. But Gayle told me that there were a bunch of sturgeon there already. I went and visited the website and I noticed, ‘OK, well, that’s too many sturgeon already.’ And so, I decided to do Northern Pike.” Good choice! That’s another very popular fish around here. “Yes, I fished many times in Lake Nipissing in my day,” he related. And let’s face it, the Northern Pike, comparatively speaking, is a beautiful fish. A sturgeon is interesting, but kind of a mud-coloured pre-historic bottom dweller compared to the sun-dappled beauty of the Northern Pike! “I had done a Northern Pike before, so I just kind of went off what I did before, just to get that size and proportion right, and then the colours. I just went ahead and just did it, based on knowledge.”

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