A three-month labour of love and creativity has transformed the appearance of the courtyard at Lake City Secondary School’s Columneetza Campus.
A collaborative project between grade 7-9 students in LCSS’s mentorship program, wood shop students, the Williams Lake RCMP police dog service and Cariboo Art Beat, seven mini murals were painted on the courtyard walls and three new picnic tables, new benches and birdhouses have been constructed.
The courtyard project, located outdoors adjacent to the Columneetza Campus counselling offices, was spurred on by school counsellor Tara Burtenshaw after brainstorming ways to make the space outside more usable and vibrant, and as a way for students to build relationships with the Williams Lake RCMP.
She contacted Williams Lake RCMP Cpl. Bentley Bouchard and Cariboo Art Beat, who jumped on board with the project immediately.
Bouchard, meanwhile, also handles the detachment’s police dog, Grimm, who instantly became an integral part of the project.
Beginning in April, students gathered in the courtyard Thursday, June 17 for snacks and refreshments, and to admire their work.
To paint the murals, students were matched up into groups of four (two Grade 9s and two Grade 7s), and were then guided along by Cariboo Art Beat’s Sarah Sigurdson, who helped students come up with creative ways to approach their art.
“The whole school was given forms to fill out with questions like: what the last year meant to them through the pandemic, who their hero is, the first things that pop into your head, most fun thing you’ve ever done, and we went from there,” Sigurdson said.
Sigurdson said she wanted the students to be fully in control of the project and allowed them to come up with their own design concepts and to let it flow freely throughout the process.
“I was completely blown away by the result,” she said. “A lot of these kids had never painted before, and it was so cool how they jumped in and exceeded my expectations. I’m really sad it’s over because I had a really good time with this.”
In all, 42 students took part in the project.
Bouchard and Grimm attended regularly — Grimm even has his paw print signed on one of the murals — and became completely proud and involved in the project.
“I’d talked with Tara (Burtenshaw) about ways to figure out some way to bring some positivity to a gloomy year,” Bouchard said. “I know from experience back when I was working in the Lower Mainland we did some mural work and how beneficial it could be, and what a great space to create something where people can come outside and be at peace. It just blew up in the best possible way.”
The relationship between Grimm and the students also became symbiotic.
“I loved working with them, and so did Grimm,” Bouchard said. “It just started from one brush stoke to artwork. I’m super impressed by all of them and they were just a great bunch for both of us to spend time with.”
Grimm is a seven-year-old German Shepherd and has been raised by Bouchard since he was eight weeks old.
“He makes a really good icebreaker with the kids,” Bouchard laughed. “He’s my best friend, my partner and everything else that goes along with it. The kids get to see Grimm and as a side note they see me and get to know each other.”
Wood shop students then put the finishing touches on the space with the construction of three brand new picnic tables, in addition to repainting tables that were already there and building several bird houses.
Lumber for the tables was donated by Sigurdson Forest Products, and United Floors provided a discount on paint.
One mural, created by Grade 9 student Allison McKinnon, Grade 8 student Rowan Smith and Grade 7 student Aurora Hooker, is of a tree surrounded by jellyfish — its leaves made of icons representing YouTube, Discord, TikTok, Instagram, Netflix and Snapchat, surrounded by facemasks — with hands connecting its branches to its roots.
“The tree represents growth throughout COVID, with the hands representing the community coming together in a time of need, and the jellyfish are like the freedom and the creativity to explore your mind since everyone’s been spending so much time at their homes or in isolation,” McKinnon said. “The sunrise in the back is like a new dawn — a new start.”
Grade 9 students McKinnon and Sydney Ethier, Grade 8s Rowan Smith and Breanne Fehr, and Grade 7s Hooker and Carly Moe, all said the project was a complete blast from start to finish.
“It was a great way to be social during COVID and get to have a ton of artistic freedom,” McKinnon said.
Moe, who spends most of her time with her Grade 7 class, said it was nice to be able to meet new people and to have fun outside her class.
“It was important to me because I got to socialize with people I did know, and people I didn’t know,” Ethier added. “We laughed a lot, we now have a lot of inside jokes, and having artistic freedom was a big part of it.”