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Five Cent Candy Bar War subject of new Chemainus mural

Youths complete project that started five years ago
Gabi Jones and Anjilee Manhas put a protective coat on their completed 5 Cent Candy Bar War Mural.

A nationwide rebellion sparked by sweet-toothed Ladysmith youths is the subject of a new Chemainus mural set to be installed in the alley behind Cowichan Neighbourhood House.

Recent Chemainus Secondary grads Gabi Jones and Anjilee Manhas were in Grade 11 art class together in 2016 when the idea was pitched to carry on the unfinished work three youths from the community resource centre (Kerry Onoshuko, Stephen Robinson and Stephen Sylvester) had started five years ago.

The teens had both been interested in painting a mural for the town and this Chemainus Festival of Murals Society project allowed them to get started right away.

“We’re both artistic and like painting so we thought it would be cool to do a mural together because then we can leave a mark on the town,” Jones said.

She and Manhas worked in their spare time for about a year and a half under the direction of art teacher Craig Miller and guidance from artist and mural society curator Cim McDonald.

The artwork known as the 5 Cent Candy Bar War Mural, which will form part of a new series to be unveiled by mural society in the near future, was on display at the Chemainus Valley Museum on Wednesday before the girls put a final protective coat to finish off their masterpiece.

“The idea was that it’s supposed to be a mural about the youth, made by the youth,” Manhas added. “It was really interesting learning about that part of our history that we hadn’t heard before.”

The Candy Bar Strike, or Candy Bar War as it’s also often referred to, occurred in the spring of 1947 when food rationing was lifted following the Second World War.

A Ladysmith youth organized a protest outside the Wigwam Café after chocolate bars were raised from five cents to eight cents and soon others in Chemainus followed suit in front of Dwyer’s Confectionery on Maple Street, according to Amy Brophy, board member of the Chemainus Valley Museum.

The mural is inspired from a photo taken by Chemainus Courier reporter Mollie Robinson and shows her niece Nancy with a few other friends posing with ice cream cones.

“The treats became a symbol of the strike since they still cost only five cents,” noted Brophy, who helped facilitated the mural’s completion after taking over from Arlene Robinson.

Jones and Manhas left three of the dresses that were completed by the original group and painted two others.

“Basically when we got it it was laid out but most of the details weren’t there or some things needed to be re-done because it had been sitting for years,” Jones said.

You could never tell by looking at the mural now, but a sign in the middle of the piece gave them the most trouble as they ensured historical accuracy.

“We had to change that (sign) three times. In the picture it’s black and white so we didn’t know what colour it was and found out later it was red. We had already done it in green so had to redo it a few times,” Jones said.

Then there was confusion because the picture was also blurry so they weren’t sure whether the sign read ‘parlour’, ‘polar’ or ‘palm’.

“That part was probably the most re-painted area,” Manhas added.

Both expect art will continue be part of their life but don’t have plans to pursue it professionally, at least for now.

Chemainus Festival of Murals Society will frame the mural and it will be unveiled as part of the Community Mural Series that will include the orcas on the Ace Hardware Store, the compass at Kin Beach and the new Labyrinth at Waterwheel Park and the Meadow Memories Mural at the Best Western in the meeting room.

Mural Society vice president Shannon Bellamy said Cowichan Neighbourhood House is a perfect location for the mural because it’s youth-driven.

“We have a great community art program at the secondary school and if you go to the school you will see examples of the art that’s been created there, so why not have a mural that’s created by the youth in the community. I think it’s a nice combination,” she said.