Mural, mural, soon to be on the wall… With the 5 Cent Mural, from left are: Peter Collum, Shannon Bellamy, Cim MacDonald, Moe Vessey, Gabi Jones, Anjilee Manhas, Arlene Robinson and Amy Brophy. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Newest Chemainus mural a collaborative effort

Story of the 5 Cent Chocolate Bar War depicted

It’s a collaborative effort in the truest sense of the word.

The new 5 Cent Candy Bar War Mural for the outdoor gallery brought together many different facets of the community, including the Chemainus Festival of Murals Society, Cowichan Neighbourhood House, the Chemainus Valley Museum, Chemainus Secondary School students and others.

“That’s why it’s such a collaborative effort,” stressed Chemainus Valley Museum board member Amy Brophy, who helped facilitate its completion.

“We’re going to have an unveiling of several new murals in our community series and this will be one of them,” said Shannon Bellamy, vice president of the Festival of Murals Society.

That’s expected to take place in late September, hopefully to coincide with another in the historical series.

Gabi Jones and Anjilee Manhas, two recent Chemainus Secondary School grads, added a protective coat to the mural as a finishing touch to the project. The girls worked on the mural for the past two years in their spare time under the direction of Chemainus Secondary teacher Craig Miller and with coaching tips from artist and Chemainus Festival of Murals Society curator Cim MacDonald.

The mural was started more than five years ago by three youths at the Cowichan Neighbourhood House: Kerry Onoshuko, Stephen Robinson and Stephen Sylvester. Arlene Robinson originally spearheaded the project.

The Chemainus Festival of Murals Society will frame the mural.

The scene in the 5 Cent Candy Bar War mural depicts an historic event about Chemainus youth based on an April 1947 Chemainus newspaper picture. This is the first mural to be painted by Chemainus youth.

The story goes back to the spring of 1947 when food rationing was lifted in Canada after the Second World War and prices started rising. Ladysmith high school student Parker Williams was shocked when he entered the Wigwam Cafe on First Avenue to buy some candy and discovered chocolate bar prices were raised from 5 cents to 8 cents. This was beyond the reach of most youth’s weekly allowance. Parker organized a protest and parade in front of the Wigwam and it soon spread in front of Dwyer’s Confectionary on Maple Street in Chemainus.

Ladysmith &Chemainus newspaper reporter Mollie Robinson captured Chemainus school girls protesting in front of Dwyer’s. Robinson’s niece Nancy and a few girlfriends posed for the picture with ice cream cones that became a symbol of the strike since they still cost only 5 cents.

In less than a week, protests moved around Vancouver Island, including a large one in front of the provincial capital building in Victoria that forced the legislature to close for the day, then over to Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and all the way across Canada to Ontario and Quebec.

Thousands of children boycotted stores, resulting in sales dropping dramatically overnight. Slogans and songs were created like: ‘Candy is Dandy but 8 cents isn’t Handy’ and ‘We want a 5 cent chocolate bar, 8 cents is going too darn far.’

Parents joined schoolchildren in campaigning against the 8 cent chocolate bar. However, the strike was short-lived when a Toronto newspaper ran an editorial revealing one of the organizations endorsing the candy bar protest was a labor union group partially funded by the Canadian Communist Party. Almost overnight, police, clergy, local governments and organizations withdrew their support and asked members not to cooperate with the ‘red’ protests.

Arlene Robinson thought it would be a good project for Chemainus youth to paint a mural that highlights a story about youth in the area. She chose the 5 Cent Candy Bar War as a great local and Canadian story, and found an old newspaper picture that looked like a good image to paint.

The Mural Society provided the proper mural board, but the project stalled when the youth moved away. A few years ago, Brophy volunteered to help the Cowichan Neighbourhood House move out of its old home in the former firehall before it was demolished and was introduced to the partially complete mural in the process.

Given her interest in Chemainus history as a new member of the Chemainus Valley Museum, Brophy offered to figure out a way to get the mural completed and mounted. That’s when she contacted art teacher Miller and he found two willing students in Manhas and Jones, who were Grade 11 students at the time.

They worked on the mural during their free time in Grades 11 and 12. “Last year I contacted the Mural Society to let them know the mural was being worked on again and I’d keep in touch with the progress,” Brophy indicated.

The executive of the Mural Society viewed the mural in the spring and MacDonald offered to help coach the girls on a few artistic techniques to allow them to advance their skills and complete the mural.

Brophy will be working with the Mural Society to find a suitable frame and then identifying the date to mount the mural on the building where the Cowichan Neighbourhood House is now situated.

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