Esquimalt Nation artist Darlene Gait is one of three artists to be selected to create artwork for the new Salish Class vessels with B.C. Ferries.

Esquimalt artist selected to create artwork for B.C. Ferries

When Darlene Gait was young, she would hear legends of wolves and orcas.

When Darlene Gait was young, she would hear legends of wolves and orcas.

Gait, a member of the Esquimalt Nation, is from the wolf clan tribe and was told tales that wolves and orcas were once one animal before they split apart. Wolves became land creatures, while orcas remained in the water.

Using legends from her childhood as inspiration, Gait will create a massive piece of art for B.C. Ferries.

Gait was one of three First Nations artists chosen by B.C. Ferries, in partnership with the First Peoples’ Cultural Council, to create artwork for the new Salish Class vessels.

For Gait, finding out she was selected for the project was an early Christmas present.

“I just thought they were calling me to tell me they were going to use my art on napkins or something,” she laughed, adding Esquimalt Nation Chief Andy Thomas encouraged her to submit a concept.

“I was really happy. It was a day before Christmas Eve, so it was awesome.”

The design, which is done in traditional Coast Salish style, depicts a pod of multi-coloured orca whales transforming into wolves. It will wrap around both sides of the ferry to cover almost the entire vessel. From a distance, it looks as if the orcas are swimming in the water.

“(Gait’s work) showed a really good use of space on the ferry and had a sense of optimism about it that the jury really liked and just the flow of the design,” said Cathi Charles Wherry, arts program manager with the First Peoples’ Cultural Council.

“They’re going to look pretty spectacular, all three of them. I think it’s really positive that B.C. Ferries has created this opportunity to honour the Coast Salish.”

The Salish Class ferries are currently under construction in Poland. The Salish Orca, that Gait’s design will be used on, is the first ship to arrive in 2016 and will sail on the Comox-Powell River route.

Gait hopes her art will encourage the thousands of residents and tourists who will see the vessel to look into the history of Victoria’s first peoples.

“I feel really proud for the Coast Salish people. I think about the nation that I come from and how hard we’ve all worked in the arts and publicly and with land claims that have been happening over the past 20 to 30 years,” Gait said. “I think it just really makes a statement to people when they see this about the First People of Victoria because it’s on that vessel.”

John Marston from Stz’uminus and Thomas Cannell from Musqueam were also chosen to create art for the Salish Eagle and Salish Raven, respectively, which will arrive in 2017 and will sail in the Southern Gulf Islands.

This is the first time the First Peoples’ Cultural Council has partnered with the B.C. Ferries for an art project, according to Charles Wherry.