“Art helps keep stories alive. Stories that have, in large part, been ignored or kept hidden from Canadian society,” says Jessey Pacho, aka Phade, a Black artist based in Toronto.

Jessey painted the mural, Our Children, with a second-generation residential school survivor and an Indigenous artist (who has chosen to remain anonymous out of respect for their family). The mural they painted talks specifically about the residential schools and the discoveries of Indigenous children’s graves at the former institutions.

The name of the mural, Our Children, is written in Cayuga language – an Iroquoian language – in the centre of the mural. There are only 60 fluent speakers of the Cayuga language left in the world as a result of the residential school system that operated in Canada from the mid-1800s to 1996. 

“It's important to us to feature authentic aspects of Indigenous culture on this wall because it's not something that we're seeing a lot of in the public realm,” says Jessey. “These are important aspects of the history of this country that need to be brought to the forefront.”

This is the second in the six-part series of Petro-Canada’s (a Suncor brand), commissioned murals by Canadian Indigenous artists across the country – Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver – with the sides of the gas stations as a canvas for the artists to share their experiences and history, and to reclaim their identity, language, culture and nationhood.

“I partnered with an Indigenous artist on this project and it's important that we're able to have this mural exist in such a public and prominent place because it shows the world that these peoples, who have practically been erased from this country, are still here and are still a strong and valuable presence. It drives the conversation forward. Art is a very powerful tool in terms of storytelling,” says Jessey. 

The story behind the mural  

Painting on the side of a Petro-Canada station featuring an Indigenous child and an Afro-Indigenous child, with a mountain lake scene in the background. The sky is multi-coloured and the words our children is featured at the bottom.
Our Children by Jessey Pacho (aka Phade) and an unnamed Indigenous co-producer

“In terms of imagery, there's a sunrise above a landmass – nowhere specifically but a representation of one of the many unceded territories in Canada,” explains Jessey. “We chose this imagery so that when people walk by, they see something that's bright and colourful, but then realize there's a deeper layer of conversation.”

Jessey’s preferred art form has garnered a greater acceptance by society at large, and for him, being able to do his art in public spaces really inspires him. 

“Also, we as Black and Indigenous people are using our art to speak on issues that are important to us,” explains Jessey. “So, the opportunity to create in public space is what inspires the drive to create. In terms of the art itself, I enjoy playing with colour and creating images that people, when they walk by, would just be mind-boggled and wonder How did the artist create that?!”

Some of the characters in the mural and the dress they're wearing are based on Haudenosaunee culture (Indigenous communities in northeast North Amerca that include the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Senca). Also, one of the characters is an Afro-Indigenous person; Afro-Indigenous people have existed all over the world for a very long time, but they are largely ignored and not part of the conversation. Putting an Afro-Indigenous person on this wall, pays an homage to their existence in this country as well.

Suncor’s Journey of Reconciliation focuses on relationships with Indigenous Peoples. Through this work and other activities, we are progressing the way our workforce thinks and acts to build mutual trust and respect with Indigenous Peoples. 

To Jessey, “Reconciliation is about taking action to do better for our Indigenous population. Every Canadian who benefits from this land has a responsibility to our Indigenous population. They are the original people of this country that we call home. As a nation it's important to acknowledge the experiences of Indigenous Peoples and ensure that we're doing the most we can to reduce the harm that Indigenous Peoples are experiencing due to our Canadian way of life. To create spaces in which Indigenous folks can feel welcome and safe.”

You’ll find the mural at the Petro-Canada retail station located at 117 Jarvis Street in Toronto, Ontario.