Thunder Bay Art Bus Hits the Road

By Sara Sadeghi Aval

When Thunder Bay artist boy Roland first drew his larger-than-life rendition of Thunder Bay’s most beloved landmarks and tributes, he chalked it up to a lighthearted sketch. Nearly a year later, he stands proudly next to its real-life conception. 

“I don’t often have a project hang out for a year before it’s tangible,” he says. “To finally see it in person is a tremendous feeling. It’s almost as if I get to meet it and know it all over again in its own existence.” 

To mark the city’s 50th anniversary, a call to artists was released by the city to create a new local bus design to honour the city and its people, and boy Roland’s design was chosen. “I wanted it to be something playful and joyful to see,” he says. “I had to keep in mind that people would be seeing this quickly and in passing. It had to be bold and contain as much information in the simplest way.”

“I hope people smile,” he continues, referring to what he hopes people see when they see the bus. “I think if I have to distill it to one thing, I just want it to feel like a smile just because you’re from Thunder Bay. I mean you wouldn’t understand the story behind the huge pink donut that is a persian if you aren’t from Thunder Bay. It’s a feel-good project for us; and I also kept thinking, ‘if I was a kid, what would I want to see on the bus? What would have gotten me excited?’”

This local artist focuses on bold lines, colours, and vivid imagery. From his tattoo work to his custom art pins, his attention to detail is his driving force, making him the perfect choice for the city’s new art on wheels. On the choice of landmarks, the artist jokingly admits to some personal bias, but ensures that both sides of town are equally represented. 

“In general, I wanted to be very inclusive, because that’s what the city should be—what a community should be. It doesn’t make sense to try and not consider everybody,” he says. “I grew up in Fort William and moved to Port Arthur as an adult.” As for landmarks, he says that the Pagoda was one of his first choices, followed by the lighthouse viewable from the north side waterfront. On the south side, he says that the Brodie Resource Library building was a sentimental spot from his childhood. Fort William First Nation and the city’s LGBTQ community are also represented in the piece, after consultation. 

“I didn’t even want any visual hierarchy; I was very impressed with the City and their enthusiasm towards creating an all-inclusive image,” he says. “There’s no denying the reality of the city we live in, and the communities that live within it and how hard it must be to exist and not be seen. This design is aimed towards those individuals as well.”

Catch boy Roland’s design around the city and snap a picture!