Champions of Change unveiled the first of many large art panels in downtown St. Paul. The first panel, the Foundry Panel, serves as art heritage says member of Champions for Change Dr. Amil Shapka, “we chose to to go with that one because that family business has been in St. Paul for over 100 years. It celebrated the history of the St. Paul Foundry. Four generation have run that business.” Foundry was formed in 1909 by Edmond Mailloux and the business is still in the family, says Dr. Shapka, “her grandsons are all running the business now, and some of her great-grandkids are working there, as well. I think it was pretty heart-warming.”
Edmond’s daughter, Cecil Bielech was present at the unveiling, explains Dr. Shapka, “the original blacksmith immigrated from Quebec, and his daughter’s still alive in St. Paul, she turned 89 that day.” Dr. Shapka says the day was really special for everyone involved, “it was really cool for that family. She remembered all the stories and had recollections of her dad coming home dirty and some of the stories from that generation. She was a second generation of that business, so that added a lot to that day.”
The blacksmith shop transformed into a wielding and machine shop and then added plumbing, sheet metal work, as well as, steam and gas fitting work. The original building was destroyed by a fire in 1949, but that didn’t deter the family, who rebuilt the shop and continued to serve St. Paul
Champions for Change hopes to install many more art history panels, explains Dr. Shapka, “it was a perfect launch for us. We’re going to use this as a stepping stone for the community to submit ideas for projects. We’ve already got history’s being done on the next five panels, so we’re that far ahead. Hopefully, by this time next year we’ll have another half dozen of those.”
Dr. Shapka expects the project to continue to grow, “the more we research, the more history we find, the more we realize we have things to celebrate that people don’t even realize.” St. Paul was originally founded as a Metis Settlement, “there was a fellow there by the name of James Brady who ran the first post master, his son formed the Metis Association of Alberta and was a celebrated war veteran and was very very accomplished. And I betcha if you asked anybody in St. Paul who he was, no one would know,” Dr. Shapka says with a chuckle. That is the whole reasoning behind the project, which started as a way to beautify the downtown core of the community, but has now taken off in another direction.
The group would love community involvement, explains Dr. Shapka, “it’s a community based project and we’re wanting to celebrate diversity. St. Paul was originally a Metis Settlement and before the coming of the Europeans, we’re trying to find somebody with history there.” To submit an idea for a panel, the public can contact Champions for Change online.
Plans are underway for the Co-op, the Ag Society, and the Legion. The Legion panel is the next to be installed which will hopefully be up by the end of September. Another panel idea the group has is important people who have visited the town, including Mother Theresa (philanthropist), Rocket Richard (Montreal Canadiens hockey player), John Deifenbaker (Canada Prime Minister), Louis St. Laurent, (Canadian Prime Minister) Wop May (celebrated war veteran, landed the first plane in St. Paul) and The Queen of England.
“There’s no shortage of cool panels, for a place that some people may think is really boring,” Dr. Shapka says lightheartedly, who noted that the community raised over a million dollars for Mother Theresa for her visit in the 1980s. “We’ve got lots of stories.”