248 River Avenue
'Overcoming Adversity: Vietnamese Refugees Mural'
Location: S side at River Ave & Mayfair 'T' intersection; West Face
Occupant: Joy's Convenience
District: Fort Rouge
Artist(s): Sarah Collard (Collard Creations), Manny Wiebe
Sponsors: Take Pride Winnipeg!, Jenny Gerbasi (City Councillor), Petersen King, Herc Rentals, Osborne Village BIZ
Mural of the Year 2015
In the early stages of the execution of this Mural, CBC filed a beautiful piece on this
Project which may be viewed at
Tam Nyugen: "You ran away because it was freedom or die. There was no freedom. So
that's what it would take SO you get on the boat and go- we did not even know where we
were going- it was just get on the boat and get on the ocean and get away. The boat was
2 metre by 10 meter and when you get on the ocean you think it's just like a piece of
"It took 5 days to get across the ocean from Vietnam to Malaysia. And we don't even
know where we are going. No captain. I am a Buddist but I prayed to any god sitting
there in the boat for our safety. I said 'if I survive I will help others'. When I came in
1980 and became established with a house and business I developed a charity called
Canadians Helping Kids in Vietnam."
"I was very happy to hear about this Mural which I think is the first one of its kind in
Canada. When I look at this Mural I try to remember the good things rather than the bad
things that happened. I try to get my life better; I try to do good, and my kids have better
lives and I can help others."
"When I saw the sketch for the Mural I was so happy. But to see it done I was even
happier- with all the colour, the mountain and the ocean and the landing. The Mural
shows the whole story. We hid the boat in behind the mountain so that nobody see.
None of us knew where the boat was until that night. There were about 17 of us and we
were divided into 3 or 4 groups and came from different directions to the boat. We heard
a lot of stories before we left about people drowning or being robbed or killed. No one
got caught and no one drowned on my boat."
"I came to Canada in 1980 and became a Canadian in 1985. I own 5 properties and three
businesses. A tailor shop for 29 years, also a nail salon in Garden City with 12
employees and I opened a small restaurant with family. Canada is my home
Tom Ethans (ED, Take Pride Winnipeg): "I think it's absolutely incredible that we have
stories like this that we have people have made it from war torn countries and come to
Canada and get set up and become successful and then be able to go out and help others
from their community. It's just a testament to the human spirit and it makes a world of
difference when you see what has been achieved by Tam."
Sarah Collard: "This Mural like many others was a mountainous journey. From its outset,
I changed my design several times (photo 7) and came up with various ideas, a
landscape to suit Take Pride Winnipeg and a boat scene to suit Tam, the owner of the
wall. At one point we were at a stalemate and did not know what to do. So Tom Ethans,
executive director of Take Pride Winnipeg came up with an idea, to combine the best
parts of each design into one. The result is evident; the best of both worlds. The right
side of the Mural depicts the luscious green rice fields found in Vietnam and the left side
shows the boat people and accurately depicts 17 survivors on Tam's boat. The far right
suggest their destination, the tilled fields of Manitoba and on the far left is the Manitoba
legislative buildings. It was a great honour to be involved with this project and to see it
come to fruition. Thank-you to all those who made it happen."
The maquettes (see Photo 7):
Maquette 1: "During several meetings with Tam (which included eating Vietnamese soup, salad
and egg rolls from his restaurant on Portage Avenue), I came up with this idea. It is meant to
show what the Boat People were running from and it was meant to show a moving journey across the ocean, each boat a moment in
time. Several boats proceed away from the coastline, towards the portrait of Tam, owner of the
building and successful survivor as a Vietnamese refugee. Tam's t-shirt is depicted in the photo,
saying SOS. They used coal to write the letters and alert others of their innocence and need for
help. The sail itself was homemade, made from a bed sheet. The boat was very small. The boat
which Tam came over on was only about 4 feet wide and it held many people. Tam wanted the
words '40th Anniversary of Boat People' in the Mural and he wanted the logo of 'Canadians
Helping Kids in Vietnam' and it depicts his efforts to raise money to bring more Vietnamese
refugees to Canada. He has sponsored many people throughout this organization. Tam did not
really want his portrait in the mural but in the end, he agreed. The portrait was taken from several
snapshots he shared with me when I went for a visit. He took out his photo album and I was able
to get a sense for his sense for fashion, love of flare pants and ability to tailor any cloth. I enjoyed
the progression which this Mural idea shows even though I knew it would be a lot of work to
depict (so many portraits). Tom Ethans had already expressed to me his desire for a simple
landscape and need for a low budget. Tom Ethans had also suggested having no portraits. However,
while Tom was on holidays, Tam told his story and I was persuaded. It was such a passionate,
heart-felt journey that I simply illustrated his story - in hopes that a solution could be
Maquette 2: "This was a beautiful landscape which I knew Take Pride Winnipeg would approve.
I created it by blending some of the mountains, tea fields and roads found in Vietnam. I loved the
way the sun burst through the clouds, reminding me of the movie Avatar, and some of the Asian
mountains which I have seen in photos. Once I showed Tom Ethans my ideas, he took to this one
and thought it was great. However, I warned him that Tam, the owner liked the other idea, so he
agreed to meet with him at his restaurant to discuss it."
Maquette 3: "This was a creative twist which was my way of blending the two together.
However, Tam did not like this idea. The reason I liked it was because it involved some of my
simple contour drawings which I knew I could get school children to paint. Tom Ethans initially
wanted me to work with students from a nearby school, so I was thinking ahead. However, as time
progressed the school idea was abandoned."
Maquette 4: This is here primarily to show where the original smaller Mural was to be placed,
above the concrete base, 2-3 ft from the ground. School children were originally going to put
their hand prints on the wall below.
"When I actually got on the wall, it took three days just to prepare the wall by scraping
the paint off, cutting away the brush which was actually trees which had grown throughout the
concrete. There was a terrible smell coming from the base of a group of trees and I was
cautious in touching it. Gradually I cut away more branches until I reached the base. As the
days passed, I was able to cut off all the branches, leaving the area completed gutted. This was
a lot of work because I only had a small hack saw which my son, Manny and I used
intermittently. One person would saw while the other person tugged. The diameter of each tree
was about 4 " thick but when there were 6 trees per clump, it made for much work. I had to
bring several garbage bags for the leaves and garbage which was found in the corner. It stank
of urine. Bottles, cans and refuse abounded. It was a good thing my son was present. He made
the work fun, climbing the trees, bending the trunk, jumping like parkour. Once we reached the
fence, we stopped. I primed the area which was to be painted, then communicated my intent to
the lawyer next door. It soon became evident that Peterson and King were going to be the
recipient of a wonderful colourful Mural in their parking lot, made visible through their very
large windows facing the lot. It was then that I took a copy of the sketch over to Connie
Petersen and informed her of the coming Mural."
"It was not long after that that Connie came out to speak with me. She was interested in
having the entire wall painted and asked how much the extension would cost. I gave her a
figure and showed her the design maquette. In the meantime, I proceeded to cut the trees down
in that area as I knew that she was requesting an extension. It was the weekend and my son
Manny and I worked the entire weekend to cut the remainder of the trees down. As we
uncovered about 12 more trees, (to the right of the fence), we also uncovered graffiti. My arms
and neck were very sore and my back was stiff from sawing so many trees. It turned out that I
was better at the saw and Manny was great at climbing. As he put pressure on the branch, it
made sawing a little easier and soon it gave way to a crack, then all it needed was a little more
sawing. I wanted the base of the trees to be short to the ground, but this was impossible due to
the way the trees entwined. Therefore, I was left with several straight stumps which I
eventually primed and painted, incorporating them into the mural. As it turned out, the right
side became very impressionistic and painterly, something which was a nice change for me."