Fate of B.C. whale mural up in air as building redevelopment proposed

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The owner of a building bearing a well-known orca mural in downtown Victoria says the jury is out on whether it will be redone during a planned redevelopment of the building.

Robert Fung, president of the Vancouver-based Salient Group, said he is a lifelong fan of the artist known as Wyland, who painted the three-storey mural depicting the A5 orca pod on the Yates Block building’s northern facade nearly four decades ago.

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The fate of the 1987 mural at 1244-1252 Wharf St. has been much-discussed ever since the American artist floated on social media last month the idea of restoring it.

“Wyland is pushing to have it done. We’ve been in communication for two years on it,” Fung said. “We have a process to go through with the city and redoing that mural is going to be subject to our heritage alteration plan.”

Nearly 37 years since the mural was dedicated by Salt Spring Island artist Robert Bateman, it’s showing signs of fading.

On Friday, Victor Stepanov, who was raised in Victoria and has seen the mural all his life, said he is in favour of a restoration despite not liking orcas all that much. “They’re just so vicious and throw seals around.”

The way the orca’s eyes were painted in the mural show a more peaceful side of the marine mammals, he said.

Passing cyclist Calvin Tripp said while the artwork could use a retouch, he has no strong opinions on whether it should be restored. “It’s a nice big blank canvas. Any kind of thing that gets put there will be fine.”

Wyland, who has painted about 100 similar murals around the world to raise awareness of the world’s ocean and marine life, has been attempting to restore some of the older, fading ones.

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In a heritage conservation plan submitted to the city last November, heritage consultant Donald Luxton and Associates said removing the mural would damage the building’s bricks, as the paint was directly applied to them.

A hotel has been planned for the site since 2020, but the most recent proposal by Salient Group in November involves preserving the existing five-storey heritage building and adding two additional floors on top to create a total of 52 units for mixed residential and hotel use.

Commercial space that would be suitable for a restaurant or another food establishment would be retained on the ground floor.

Designed by John Teague, Yates Block was first erected in 1882 and has undergone several renovations and additions since then. At different points in the building’s history, it has been a dry goods and grocery store, a ship chandler and a restaurant.

The building — with three storeys above street grade and two below sloping to the harbour — has been largely vacant since its last tenant, Pacific Design Academy, relocated to Bastion Square in 2022.

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