Huge Salish Heron ferry design captivates artist

After seeing his design aboard the BC Ferries, Salish Heron put everything into perspective for Maynard Johnny Jr. for the first time.

Penelacut tribesman and noted artist Beregh Salish visited BC Ferries Fleet Maintenance Yard in Richmond last week with his daughter and grandson to view artwork on the ferry. The enormity of this immediately captivated him, given that his project began as a six-by-two-inch sketch.

“I was absolutely amazed how they were able to do it on such a large scale,” admitted Johnny. “Seeing my work so big was cool.”

The visit was documented, along with footage from his Duncan studio, for a YouTube video.

The wings, tail, and beak of Johnny’s Salish Heron design is essentially the size of a seven-story building, lying on its side and looping around the vast hull of the ship. This made a huge impression on him and his family.

Last summer, BC Ferries announced the development of a project that would decorate the Salish Heron. Thirty-six artists applied, narrowing down to a shortlist of six before Johnny’s concept was chosen in late September.

The new BC Ferries was built in Poland and is part of a fleet that includes Salish Orca, Salish Raven and Salish Eagle. The design of the Salish Eagle was done by another local artist, John Marston of the Stzuminus Indigenous Nation.

The remaining three vessels are already in operation. The Salish Heron is due to enter service shortly, plying between Tzawwassen and Schwartz Bay, as well as on the islands of the South Bay.

Johnny knows that this project will be a legacy not only for himself and his family, but for the Indigenous peoples as a whole in many ways on the path of Truth and Reconciliation.

“I am proud of this achievement and I hope that it will inspire awareness of the first peoples of this territory, as well as a desire to know the history,” he said. “There are a lot of misconceptions about how things work for indigenous peoples.

“Of course, I think about my grandchildren, and I hope that I will be close to my great-grandchildren. This is the legacy I want to leave. Over the past 10 years, my art has allowed me to go where I couldn’t before.

“My goal is to keep moving forward and keep raising awareness so we can all heal.”

Johnny Jr. was born in 1973 in Campbell River and is of Paternal Coastal Salish descent from Penelacoot Island and Maternal Kwakwaka’wakw from Cape Mudge on Quadra Island. As a youth, he spent time in Washington State before returning to Canada.

Johnny is primarily a self-taught artist. He has been learning and perfecting his craft since the age of 17.

Johnny’s desire to constantly evolve as an artist knows no bounds. He’s had a busy past year, which also includes an appearance on a segment of the CBC TV show Still Standing on Chemainus to talk about an arch project for Waterwheel Park, and he also has a mural of Chemainus in the works called Rebirth that will be installed in summer.

“My first thought is what else could I do?” Johnny gave in. “I’m trying to figure out what else I can do and take my work to the next level, do something that no one has done before.”

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Maynard Johnny Jr. With Daughter Anola Johnny And Grandson In Front Of The Salish Heron.  (Photo By Bc Ferries)

Maynard Johnny Jr. with daughter Anola Johnny and grandson in front of the Salish Heron. (Photo by BC Ferries)

Drawing By Maynard Johnny Jr. On The Side Of The Salish Heron.  (Photo By Bc Ferries)

Drawing by Maynard Johnny Jr. on the side of the Salish Heron. (Photo by BC Ferries)