The women behind the art in Vanier

Art is all around us, and in Vanier, that couldn’t be more true – wherever one turns, there is typically a mural or monument rich in colour and culture.

Vanier is attracting top talent from beyond the region, turning the neighbourhood into a leading destination for artists.

“I am constantly in the community even though I’m not a resident,” artisan Jaime Morse says of the area.

Morse, a Cree/Metis artist originally from Lac La Biche, Alta., says she was immediately drawn to Vanier when she came to Ottawa because of the Wabano Centre. She’s since made working in the area part of her career.

Her work includes carrying on traditions of fish scale art – art created by using dried fish skin, which can curl and look like petals and can be dyed different colours – Métis beadwork and ink on different animal skin. She also founded Indigenous Walks, an organization offering walking tours that explore Ottawa through an Indigenous perspective – something she says she would love to expand within Vanier.

Of all the pieces and teachings Morse has contributed to the community, one particular piece – a planned Indigenous crosswalk, consisting of a design of moccasins crossing between two colourful flowers – makes her most proud. She says she hopes to see it finally make its mark on Montreal Road in front of the Wabano Centre one day.

Art ‘sustains the pulse of a community’

A proud Vanier resident, Mique Michelle considers herself a strong advocate for abolishing the negative perceptions of graffiti and street art.

Veronica Roy, a fellow frequent Vanier artist agreed, highlighting discrepancies such as receiving lower pay and fewer accolades than their male counterparts.

“Art has the capacity to sustain the pulse of a community that might otherwise be struggling to maintain its heartbeat,”

Working in the art industry can be hard for women, Morse says, a sentiment that’s echoed by others.

This makes working together in a strong community all the more important.

“It’s important that we recognize, uplift and financially support women artists,” Roy says, highlighting how Vanier embraces and encourages artists and their work.

Roy’s resume includes working with an impressive roster of organizations such as KIND Space, House of PainT, Capital Pride and Digi60 Filmmaker’s Festival. She says it’s her work in communities such as Vanier that are most important.  

“Art has the capacity to sustain the pulse of a community that might otherwise be struggling to maintain its heartbeat,” she says, adding that neighbourhoods such as Vanier that integrate art through outdoor murals and other installations have a unifying sense of community and vibrancy that are lacking in suburban areas.

Roy has worked with another fellow female artist, Mique Michelle, whose work is front and centre in Vanier in the form of one of Ottawa’s largest murals.

The four-storey mural, located on the exterior wall of an office building at 261 Montreal Rd., honours the history of Vanier’s Inuit population as well as their experiences and contribution to the neighbourhood and community.

A proud Vanier resident, Mique Michelle considers herself a strong advocate for abolishing the negative perceptions of graffiti and street art. It is pieces like the Montreal Road mural that can help bridge that gap by showcasing the colour and creativeness in a graffiti-style art piece.

As an artist, Roy said working with artists like Mique Michelle can be very inspiring. As an active facilitator of the arts in this city, Roy said it is the strength of a community is the biggest inspiration for artists in Ottawa and working in Vanier, inspiration, she added comes naturally.

“I find Vanier to be particularly unpretentious,” she says, contrasting it to other historic Ottawa neighbourhoods that have been radically reshaped in recent years by new developments.

“Vanier has retained its spirit,” Roy says.