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Never let those who say it can't be done, stand in the way of those who are doing it. This is the credo of Karl Schutz, the force behind the original Chemainus Mural Project. There were many who looked at Chemainus, and declared that turning the town into an Outdoor Art Gallery simply could not and should not be done. Fortunately, the people who were busy trying to do it were too busy to get discouraged. And that is why, today, Chemainus is known as "the little town that did."
Chemainus, tucked in the heartland of the Cowichan Valley, was once primarily a mill town, and home to the largest covered-in sawmill in North America.
The port of Chemainus was one of the first ports to have been developed in the Pacific Northwest. Chemainus lies within the boundaries of the District of North Cowichan, tucked neatly in the Cowichan and Chemainus Valleys, on southeastern Vancouver Island. North Cowichan is the third oldest municipality in British Columbia, with a population of approximately 27,000.
For years, it was believed that the forestry sector, which was the backbone of Chemainus' economy, and indeed the Cowichan Valley, would always thrive. During the early 1980s, the forest industry began to show signs of decline, and the Chemainus mill operation suffered greatly.
In 1982, the North Cowichan council initiated a downtown revitalization project to give a fresh new look to a tired main street in Chemainus.
In 1983, after operating for 120 years, the mill closed. Almost 700 people became unemployed in a community of just under 4,000 people. Residents rallied and they continued to beautify the downtown core, trying to promote the logging theme. Businessman and Chemainus resident, Karl Schutz, came up with the concept of painting history on the walls of Chemainus. An organization known as the Festival of Murals Society was established to oversee and preserve the murals project.
Today, there are over 3 dozen murals painted on the downtown business walls. The paintings are images of real people and life in the early years. Chemainus' mural are world famous and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.