Fireweed Crafts Unveils Celebration Mural

Story by Pat Forrest, Photo by Emily Turner

The brightly coloured façade of Fireweed Crafts in Thunder Bay’s Bay and Algoma District has long beckoned shoppers in search of something local, handmade, and special. To mark their 40th anniversary this year, owners Kerrie Atkinson, Crystal Nielsen, and Ashley Hubbell decided the façade, which was originally designed and painted by Nielsen in 1996, was in need of a touch-up.

They called upon local artist Michael O’Connor of MJO Studio, who is renowned for his murals, to undertake the project. O’Connor agreed, but soon came back to them with a bolder idea: to paint a mural along the entire side of the building to complement the front. With the goal of creating a work that would honour and celebrate the store, its artists, and the communities that support them, the project got underway.

The result is a dazzling tribute to Thunder Bay, the region, and its people that features a big blue bear, the palisade at Fort William Historical Park, the Terry Fox Monument, a moose, Kakabeka Falls, the Black Bay bridge, the Sleeping Giant, the Silver Islet Sea Lion rock formation, grain elevators, and a freighter. 

The business’s co-founder Atkinson says that the Fireweed name speaks to seizing opportunities and being resilient, just like the fireweed plant. That’s how it all got started. “Forty years ago, we decided we wanted to fill a void by giving artists a place to sell their works and have a regular income,” she says. “We started small, but we grew, and the model has always worked very well for us all.” 

While only six artists originally asked to be a part of the new business, now over 200 artists are represented, 80% from Thunder Bay and 20% from across Canada. Some, like Jake Black, Alan Moon, and Nielsen and Atkinson themselves have been a part of Fireweed from the earliest days. The newest members include fibre artist Melanie Mathieson; Elsie Burgoyne, who creates felted pieces; photographer James Brown, who also produces jigsaw puzzles, mugs, and coasters; metal and Lake Superior driftwood artist Richard Kukkee; and Cheryl Wilson-Smith, whose fused glass pieces are on display. 

Thanks to its new mural, the building is impossible to miss—and you won’t want to miss what awaits you inside.

With the festive season approaching, Fireweed Crafts will be open for extended hours during December: 10 am–6 pm weekdays, 10 am–5 pm Saturdays, and noon–4 pm Sundays.