Nestled in the Ottawa Valley, Pembroke has plenty of reasons to be famous. It’s the first Canadian city to have electric streetlights, first turned on in 1884, and home to plenty of historical site, so many that the town offers different walking tours for different parts of history. But what Pembroke is most famous for in the art community is being Canada’s largest outdoor art gallery, collectively called The Pembroke Heritage Murals. They are a collection of over 30 large scale murals that explore this community’s rich history, a project that fosters a community and brings tourism to the small community.
Pembroke is a quiet community nestled in the Ottawa Valley. Home to just over 16,000 people, the small town is actually a historical gem for Ontario and Canada as a whole. It’s the first town to get electric streetlights, switched on in 1884, and has a rich history dating back to the early 1800s. But for art enthusiasts, especially lovers of outdoor and street art, Pembroke is particularly famous.
Pembroke has a long history of keeping its history in tact, restoring old buildings and centres for tourists and future generations and wearing its proud history on its sleeve. Tourists and locals can take walking tours, walk around to take in the art scene and festivals, and visit the city’s museums and restored buildings.
And among these museums are some of Canada’s oldest murals, some dating back over 20 years and given the attention they deserve to last as long as Pembroke’s other historical sites. Older murals are constantly touched up and restored by people involved in the ongoing project while more murals are added every year. “We are very proud to keep Pembroke’s outdoor art gallery in good repair,” Heritage Mural chairperson Pamela Dempsey told The Daily Observer, “Thirty-three murals is an exceptional gallery of our illustrated history.”
The murals are professionally curated, with artists like Stephan Bell, Neil Blackwell, Marillyn Saffery, and Pierre Hardy all contributing murals over the years. Subjects range within Pembroke’s history, from its discovery in the early 1800s, through the First World War, and even a Grease-inspired homage to the 50s.
What the Pembroke Heritage Murals project demonstrates is the role that outdoor art can have in defining a city’s identity, attracting tourists, and contributing to a larger dedication to a particular subject. For Pembroke, their history is not only a point of pride, but a viable and growing source of income for the city. With such a rich history and an ongoing dedication to keeping the city’s history alive and restored, Pembroke stands as an example of the power of street art.