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A mural on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg shows the faces of missing and murdered aboriginal women, as created by artist Tom Andrich. (Credit: CHRISD.CA)

Canada has much to offer the lover of murals.

Montreal's Quartier Latin is an explosion of colour and wild styles in which that district's murals celebrate its cultural diversity. The downtown of Pembroke, Ont., on the other hand, is covered with murals cataloguing that city's past glory as a lumber boom town. And there's hardly a bare wall to be found anywhere in Chemainus, B.C., the Vancouver Island town that's world-famous for its many murals.

Across the country, cities large and small have promoted or commissioned outdoor murals as a way of enlivening neighbourhoods, drawing tourists and giving formerly blank walls a claim to be beautiful. And yet, like all art, murals ought to make us think as well.

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Which is why Winnipeg's newest mural deserves special attention.

Officially unveiled last week by Eric Robinson, Manitoba's Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, the mural above a prominent railway overpass on Portage Ave. is not your typical local-improvement-district piece of public art. Rather, it depicts 10 murdered or missing native women. The words "Never Forgotten" float above their radiant faces.

This is a painting with several roles. It reminds drivers of the continuing national tragedy of native female disappearances - the Native Women's Association of Canada documents 79 such cases in Manitoba in its latest report. It also memorializes the victims in a manner more dignified than the standard mug shot that generally accompanies missing-person notices. "These were beautiful women, mothers and children," Mr. Robinson observes. "They had families and were loved; they deserve to be remembered that way." And if it leads to practical information on any of these cases, so much the better.

Historical events, famous faces and anarchic splashes of colour all have their place in brightening downtowns, but this is public art with a higher purpose. More murals should have such aspirations. The provincial government covered the $7,000 cost of the mural and Canadian Pacific provided permission to paint its bridge. Honour to both.

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