James Marshall’s Murals
James Marshalls is a historic preservation activist, professional artist and amateur historian from Medicine Hat, Alberta. Apparently motivated by a belief in the importance of historical preservation and city beautification, Marshall has put up a fight whenever one of Medicine Hat’s antiquated edifices- such as the old City Hall, the old Post Office and the Bank of Montreal- was to be torn down. Due in part to Marshall’s efforts, the historic Ewart Duggan house (currently the oldest residence in Medicine Hat) and the Medalta Potteries building were spared the wrecking ball. In fact, in the case of Medalta Potteries, the old building was not merely saved due to the efforts of Marshall and his friend Jack Forbes, but effectually transformed into one of Medicine Hat’s foremost tourist attractions. In honour of his work, Marshall has received a number of prestigious awards, including the Alberta Historic Resources Foundation Heritage Service Award, the A.G.T. March of Champions Outstanding Contribution to Art and Culture in Medicine Hat, the Alberta Craft Council Award of Honour, and the Medicine Hat’s Civic Recognition Award for Culture.
In addition to his role as a historic preservation activist, Marshall is a prolific and well-known artist who, after establishing Grassroots Studios with his wife Lorine in 1978, has made a living selling his art. His famous pencil sketches of historic buildings and iconic residents of the prairies line the walls of homes, businesses, schools and government offices across Alberta. His pottery and clay sculptures, although equally impressive, are somewhat more difficult to find.
Although Marshall is accomplished in a variety of mediums, he is perhaps best known for his famous sculptured brick murals. Created by carving pre-designed images into raw “green” brick, his murals can be found all over Alberta and Ontario.
Over the years, Marshall, a native and current resident of Medicine Hat, has erected beautiful brick murals in nearly every corner of his hometown. Although a number of spectacular Marshall murals exist in other parts of Canada, this article will focus on those in Medicine Hat. The following is a collection of some of Marshall’s public brick murals in Medicine Hat and the surrounding area.
Legend of the Saamis, 1984
Created in 1884, the “Legend of the Saamis” is Marshall’s interpretation of the legend behind Medicine Hat’s naming as told by James Sanderson, a Scots-Cree Metis and one of Medicine Hat’s first residents. This mural graces the foyer to the Council Chambers in City Hall.
A description beside the mural reads:
Medicine Hat boasts a proud heritage- a city whose name originated from Indian lore. Legend tells of a winter of great famine and hardship for the Blackfoot nation. The Elders of the Council chose a young Blood to save his tribe from starvation.
Setting out with his new wife and his favourite wolf dog, he journeyed down the ice-bound South Saskatchewan River. After many arduous days they made their way to the “breathing hole”, an opening in the ice located between what is now Police Point and Strathcona Island in Medicine Hat. This location was known as a sacred place to the Indians; a place where the water spirits came to breathe.
The pair made camp and summoned the spirits to appear. A giant serpent rose from the misty waters and demanded the sacrifice of the women in exchange for a “Saamis” or “holy bonnet” which would endow the owner with special powers and great hunting prowess. The young brave tried to trick the spirit by throwing the body of is dog into the river, but the serpent was not fooled, and finally, the woman was reluctantly thrown into the icy waters.
The Indian was told to spend the night on the island (Strathcona) and “in the morning when the sun lights the cutbanks go to the base of the great cliffs and there you will find your Medicine Hat.” And so, aided by the magic of his Saamis, the young hunter located the much needed game, saved his people, and eventually became a great Medicine Man. The “breathing hole” remains open in winter to this day, and on clear, frosty nights the ghostly wisps of vapour rising from the frigid waters whisper to us the Legend of the Saamis.
I-XL Industries Entrance Sign, 1985
This mural, created in 1985, is the entrance sign to I-XL Industries, a brick company which employed Marshall for ten years. I-XL has supplied the bricks, workshop and kiln for nearly all of Marshall’s murals.
Medicine Hat Family YMCA Donor Wall, 1986
This mural is in Medicine Hat’s downtown YMCA.
The Herons, 1987
“The Herons,” built in 1987, stands in Riverside Veteran’s Memorial Park.
Band Shell Heritage Wall, 1987
The “Band Shell Heritage Wall” stands inside a gazebo in Riverside Veteran’s Memorial Park. An explanation beside it reads:
The Indian people, living in close harmony with the land for thousands of years, referred to this beautiful river valley as “the place where the river comes closest with the mountains (the mountains being referred to are the Cypress Hills).” The eagles that lived on the cliffs near Police Point provided the best feathers for the native peoples’ sacred ceremonies. Gradually, trappers and traders moved into the area and by the mid-late 1800’s the West began to change forever. The newly formed North West Mounted Police were sent west in 1874 to enforce law and order. They established a barracks at Police Point in 1883.
The Canadian Pacific Railroad arrived here in 1883, accompanied by the first settlers, merchants, businessmen, and entrepreneurs, who pitched their tents on this very location.
By 1885 paddle wheel river boats were navigating the South Saskatchewan and being docked on the banks directly east of this pavilion. Sir Wilfred Laurier, a future Prime Minister of Canada came to Medicine Hat in 1894 on a political campaign, and spoke from the original bandstand in Riverside Park.
The first municipal hospital in the North West Territories and the only medical institution between Winnipeg and the West Coast was built in 1889n in Medicine Hat.
Natural gas was discovered near this site in 1891 and during the “boom” of 1912, the town enjoyed unprecedented growth. Abundant clay deposits and inexpensive fuel attracted the interest of the ceramic industry, and several brick, pipe and pottery plants were established, thus becoming one of Medicine Hat’s first industries.
Ranching and dryland farming has been important from the earliest days, creating a service centre for a large agricultural district.
Medicine Hat has seen years of growth, change, drought, depression and renewed growth and has enjoyed steady progress into the twentieth century. Modern air service and important new discoveries in the oil and gas industry continue to serve the major industrial base for the “Gas City”.
Our Favorite Customers, 1988
Marshall created “Our Favorite Customers” for Doug Burgess, one of his best friends. Burgess, the “Mr. Dairy Queen” in Medicine Hat, was building a new store downtown and wanted a mural depicting some of his regular customers.
Peace on Earth, 1989
“Peace on Earth” decorates the interior of Hillside Monumental, across the street from the Hillside Cemetery.
Journey of Life, 1990
The “Journey of Life”, sculpted in 1990, graces the Saamis Memorial Funeral Chapel.
“Kids” serves as the entrance sign to Herald School.
Shortgrass Library System Headquarters Mural, 1990
This 1990 mural of a pronghorn antelope stands outside the Shortgrss Library System Headquarters in the light industrial area.
Cottonwood Mural, 1991
This mural can be found downtown, on the side of a building on South Railway Street.
Irvine School Entrance Sign, 1992
This mural stands opposite the main entrance inside Irvine School, Irvine, which is a fifteen minute drive east of Medicine Hat on the #1 Trans-Canada Highway.
Holy Family, 1992
“Holy Family” stands opposite the main entrance in St. Joseph’s Home.
“History” serves as the entrance sign to Riverside School.
The Legend, 1995
“The Legend” adorns the halls of Seven Persons School, Seven Persons, a 15 minute drive southeast of Medicine Hat on the #3 Crowsnest Highway. It is Marshall’s depiction of the James Sanderson legend explaining how Seven Persons Creek, the namesake of the hamlet of Seven Persons, got its name.
The Journey of Christ, 1995-2001
“The Journey of Christ” is a seventeen-piece masterpiece that beautifies St. Joseph’s Home’s Garden Park. It depict The Passion- specifically The Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden, and the fifteen Stations of the Cross- and the Resurrection. Because of this collection of murals, St. Joseph’s Home’s Garden Park has become something of a pilgrimage destination for Roman Catholics on Good Friday.
Marshall claims that “The Journey of Christ” was one of the major highlights of his career. In his own words, “I expect that this sculpture park will remain my most important work.
The Last Supper
The Agony in the Garden
The Stations of the Cross
Station I- Jesus is Condemned to Death
Station II- Jesus Carries His Cross
Station III- Jesus Falls the First Time
Station IV- Jesus Meets His Mother
Station V- Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry the Cross
Station VI- Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
Station VII- Jesus Falls the Second Time
Station VIII- Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem
Station IX- Jesus Falls the Third Time
Station X- Jesus is Stripped of His Garments
Station XII- Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
Station XIII- Jesus Dies on the Cross
Station XIV- Jesus is Taken Down From the Cross
Station XV- Jesus is Laid in the Tomb
The Runners, 1997
“The Runners” decorates the Athletic Awards Wall in the Medicine Hat College.
The Flood of 1995, 1997
“The Flood of 1995”, built in 1997, stands in Riverside Veteran’s Memorial Park. It commemorates the so-called 1995 flooding of the South Saskatchewan River, the so-called “100 year flood” which destroyed several homes and businesses in Medicine Hat. A plaque on the mural reads:
On June 9, 1995 at 9:00 PM, the South Saskatchewan River overflowed its banks and peaked at 9.8 meters (32 feet). Hundreds of people were affected by the “100 year” flood. Several families lost their homes. This wall is to commemorate that tragic event but also to recognize the tremendous community spirit that resulted.
The goal of the mural construction was to raise funds for the victims of the flood. It was made possible by generosity of the citizens of Medicine Hat who purchased bricks, and a matching donation from an anonymous donor.
The members of the 1995 Flood Relief Committee were:
James D Horsman, Chairman ; Cliff Wright, Co-Chairman ; Jack Coleman ; Gloria Mazloum ; Les Wickenheiser ; Penny Gardner ; Diana Reinhardt ; Roy Weidemann ; Ed Law ; Cathy Smith ; Michelle Winger ; Norman Manweiler ; Leigh Smythe ; The Salvation Army
Eagle Entrance Sign, 1997
The “Eagle Entrance Sign” is the entrance sign to the Saamis Teepee.
Paradise Valley Entrance Sign, 1998
This is the entrance sign to the Paradise Valley Par 2 Golf & Driving Range.
McCoy High School Logo, 1999
This mural, located opposite the main entrance in McCoy High School, is the McCoy High School Logo.
Mary and Child Jesus, 1999
“Mary and the Child Jesus” is located next to the McCoy High School Logo, within McCoy High School.
100 Years of Service, 1999
“100 Years of Service” decorates he interior of the Medicine Hat Police Service Station.
Millennium and the Ascension, 2000
These murals, located at the back of the nave of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, commemorate the 2000 millennial year.
BATUS Headquarters Entrance Sign, 2000
This is the entrance to the British Army Training Unit in Suffield, Alberta, about a 25 minute drive north of Medicine Hat. Another of Marshall’s murals, the 1998 “City of Medicine Hat 25th Anniversary Mural”, is located within the compound. I wasn’t able to procure a picture of this mural, as the Military Police guarding the complex forbid any visitors (without special permission), let alone cameras, from entering the Canadian Forces Base, which is one of the largest chemical and biological weapons research centres in the world.
Mother Teresa School Entrance Sign, 2002
This is the entrance sign to Mother Teresa School, an elementary school in the Ross Glen district.
Crestwood School Entrance Sign, 2002
This is the entrance to Crestwood School.
Phoenix Safe House Donor Mural, 2002
This mural stands inside Kin Coulee Park, at the edge of Seven Persons Creek.
The Dancers, 2003
“The Dancers” is Marshall’s interpretation of the legend behind Medicine Hat’s name as told by Dan Weasel Moccasin. It stands at the base of the Saamis Teepee.
St. Louis School Entrance Sign, 2003
This mural is located opposite the main entrance inside St. Louis School. The plaque at its bottom reads:
Commemorative mural by Medicine Hat artist, James Marshall, commissioned on the occasion of the bicentennial of the Congregation of the Sister of Charity of St. Louis who began teaching in St. Louis School, Medicine Hat, in January of 1912. Dedicated: October 24, 2003.
Bald Eagle, 2004
“Bald Eagle” is located inside an assisted living home in Masterpiece River Ridge, in the Riverside district.
Medicine Man, 2004
The Medicine Man stands within BATUS Park Downtown, incidentally on the site of the old City Hall that Marshall once fought to save from demolition.
St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church Entrance Sign, 2004
This is the entrance sign to St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, an iconic Medicine Hat landmark.
Notre Dame Academy Entrance Sign, 2004
This is the entrance sign to Notre Dame Academy, a Catholic middle school with a sports academy.
Veiner Centre Entrance Sign, 2006
This is the entrance to the Veiner Centre, a recreational facility for seniors- named after former mayor Harry Veiner- which was severely damaged in the flood of 2013.
“Kids” serves as the entrance sign of Connaught School.
In Memory of Megan, 2006
“In Memory of Megan” adorns the Megan Wahl Memorial Park in the Southridge district. Megan Elizabeth Wahl, daughter of the late Medicine Hat lawyer Harry Wahl, died on July 2, 2005, at 23 years old. She had fallen asleep at the wheel while driving from the west coast to Medicine Hat and died in the subsequent crash. The park and Marshall’s mural was dedicated to her memory.
People in the Park, 2006
“People in the Park” is located in the town of Elkwater in the Cypress Hills, about a 45 minute drive southeast of Medicine Hat. It is built into the side of the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park Visitor Information Centre.
100 Years of History, 2006-2007
This magnificent mural decorates the Redcliff Town Hall. Redcliff, Alberta, is a town about 5 minutes north of Medicine Hat on the #1 Trans-Canada Highway with a history intertwined with Medicine Hat’s. A plaque in front of the mural describes the image in great detail, starting with the pictures in the top left-hand corner and working down and right. The plaque reads:
The men who worked at the Redcliff Rolling Mill and Bolt Company made re-bar, bolts, train rails and other steel products. The plant operated from 1912 through 1928.
While visiting Redcliff Rudyard Kipling was introduced to the power of natural gas. Upon seeing the flames form a flaring gas well; he exclaimed “this town has all hell for a basement.”
The CPR passenger was a regular visitor to Redcliff. The train arrived from the west at noon each day and from the east at 5:00 p.m., allowing the local passengers to make a day trip to the city. In addition, there were many freight trains that came through Redcliff on their way to all points across the country.
Edward Danelz was the first mayor of Redcliff in 1912. He was also the manager of the Redcliff Elevator and Flower Mill Company. He later enlisted in the army to serve in World War I.
Redcliff Commercial Cars made trucks and busses. Buses provided scheduled service between Redcliff and Medicine Hat and also between Medicine Hat and Turner Valley. The Redcliff trucks were also used by Burns Foods to deliver their products and to train the troops for World War I.
The clay for brick manufacturing was taken from the coulees and from pits dug at the plant sites. Coal was extracted from mines deep below the south end of town.
Dr. Stoner, along with Messer’s Lockwood and Wheeler, came from Minnesota. They established the Redcliff Realty Company and founded the town. Dr. Stoner declared the town had a great future as “The Smokeless Manufacturing Centre of the West.”
On June 25, 1915 a devastating tornado touched down damaging many buildings. Fortunately only one person was injured on the fateful day.
Redcliff Brick and Coal Company was established in 1906. The name was later changed to the Gunderson Brick and Coal Company and finally to the Perry Brick Company. The Ross Clay Products, Redcliff Clay Products (later he Premier Brick Company) and the Redcliff Pressed Brick Co. were established in 1912. These brick plants provided many clay bricks fort the construction trade for many years.
Natural gas was the reason for entrepreneurs to bring their industrial expertise to Redcliff. The gas heated furnaces for the manufacture of glass, and steel and iron products. There were many gas wells drilled over the years, some of which are still producing.
Flora Ogilvie was one of the many teachers who made positive impressions on their students. Other great teachers were: Edith Broadfoot, Bertha Stone, Walter King, Margaret Wooding and Isabel Cox.
The steel water tower standing today was built in 1913. It replaced the first tower which was a wooden structure.
The Redcliff Bus Lines, operated by the Van Werts, ran a regular service between Redcliff and Medicine Hat. Employees of Dominion Glass who lived in Medicine Hat rode the bus to and from work for many years. Students from Redcliff were transported to and from Medicine Hat Schools.
Children have been schooled in Redcliff since 1911. The first school was replaced with Parkside School in 1959. In addition, Isabel F. Cox and Margaret Wooding School were added to the schools in Redcliff.
The historic St. Ambrose Church is one of a very few buildings constructed of clinker brick. This unique building material was discarded into the clay pits and coulees as the bricks were over-fired and thought unusable.
The cenotaph in Memorial Park was dedicated to remembrance of the soldiers from Redcliff who died in the wars. A cairn on Broadway Avenue identifies those from Redcliff who died in World War II and the rows of trees on either side of Broadway Avenue are for each soldier who left Redcliff to fight in that war.
The Dominion Glass Company made glass containers for 80 years. The plant provided a livelihood for many people in Redcliff and area until it closed in 1989.
Fire hydrants, wrought iron fences, railings, lamp standards, and other iron products were made by the Redcliff Ornamental Iron and Brass Works.
I-XL Industries was a mainstay in Redcliff for 92 years. The Premier Brick Company manufactured clay bricks from the plant on Broadway Avenue until its closure in the 1950’s. The Pressed Brick Company made bricks at its site on Mitchell Street until it ceased operation in 2004.
For many years the town was once a policeman town. “Paddy” Hill was a colorful Chief of Police in the 1930’s and 40’s. He made sure that the populace heeded the law.
Television literally came to Redcliff in 1957 when CHAT-TV made its home here. Many employees went on to make names for themselves in television in all parts of Canada and elsewhere.
The Rosary was the first greenhouse established in Redcliff growing lettuce. It later became the Redcliff Greenhouses which grew flowers until its closure in 2004. Currently greenhouses primarily grow cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes.
Energy companies have operated out of Redcliff since 1906, starting with wooden derricks and many labourers. The gas industry has become a mobile, modern, hi-tech industry.
Desert Blume Community Entrance Sign, 2008
This is the entrance sign to Desert Blume, a gated community on the outskirts of Medicine Hat.
Saamis Medicine Man, 2008
The “Saamis Medicine Man,” ostensibly one of the characters in the many legends purported to be responsible for Medicine Hat’s name, adorns Saamis Rotary Park in Southridge.
Holy Family Parish Entrance Sign, 2008
This is the entrance sign to Holy Family Parish, the largest Roman Catholic church in Medicine Hat.
Teaching Christ, 2008
“Teaching Christ” stands on the outside of St. John’s Presbyterian Church in downtown Medicine Hat.
This mural is built into the side of Redi Enterprises on Allowance Avenue.
100 Years of School, 2009
“100 Years of School” serves as the entrance sign to Alexandra School, one of the oldest schools in Medicine Hat.
Risen Christ, 2009
Risen Christ is built into the walls of St. John’s Presbyterian Church.
Cypress County Logo, 2010
The Cypress County logo is built into the side of the Cypress County Office in Dunmore, Alberta, about 5 minutes east of Medicine Hat.
River Heights School, 2011
This mural serves as the entrance sign to River Heights School, next to the Medicine Hat Hospital.
Medalta Potteries, 2011
This mural, located behind the front doors of Medalta Potteries, depicts James Marshall and Jack Forbes conceiving the idea of the Medalta Potteries museum. A description adjacent to the mural says:
The mural of Jack Forbes, pointing towards the old factory, and James Marshall, stands as a testament to the passion and dedication of all the visionaries who guide the preservation of our heritage.
One hot afternoon in 1974, two friends stood under a sprawling cottonwood tree near the abandoned Medata Potteries factory. Inspired by the old pottery site and knowing that the Alberta government was in the process of identifying important heritage resources around the province, they agreed that if anything qualified for designation, Medalta did!
So began a vision of what could be: Medalta Potteries as a heritage site, tourism destination, and a centre of excellence.
Fire Fighters Memorial, 2011
The “Fire Fighters Memorial”, located near the Medicine Hat airport, is dedicated to those fire fighters who lost their lives on the job, or after developing illnesses acquired on the job. Engravings and plaques on the mural write:
Dedicated September 16, 2011. Designed and created by James Marshall. A special thank you to all the volunteers and sponsors who made this project possible.
“Honouring all the fire fighters who have died in the line of duty. May their spirits forever soar. We give thanks to them for their ultimate sacrifice and to all those who still safeguard our communities.”
“The Last Alarm”: Fire Fighter W. Stewart 1913; Fire Fighter J. Brier 1913; Fire Fighter R. Rimmer 1913; Fire Fighter A. Mollinson 1917; Fire Fighter W.W. Cunningham 1917; Fire Fighter G. Baird 1944; Captain W.C. Collins 1948; Captain F. Unwin 1967; Captain H.M. Paulson 1978 ;Sr. Fire Fighter B.E. Lambert 2013
Fire Fighters Prayer: When I am called to duty, God, wherever flames may be, give me the strength to save a life, whatever be its age. Let me embrace a little child before it is too late, or save an older person from the horror of that fate. Enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout, and quickly and efficiently to put the fire out. I want to fill my calling to give the best in me. To guard my friend and neighbour and protect their property. And if, according to your will, while on duty I must answer Death’s call, bless with your protecting hand my family, one and all.
- The Art of James Marshall; James Marshall, Les Manning, Dan Engel, Bill Yuill; 2012