Calgary mural coined ‘Bownessie’ tells fictional story of creature found in Bowness lagoon

A new mural under a bridge in Calgary’s Bowness Park shares a funny piece of the city’s history. 

Calgary artist Brad Hays recently painted a nine-metre-long “Ogopogo” mural and says the inspiration stemmed from an old newspaper article.

About a year ago at a COVID-safe Neighbour Day party, a Bowness Community Association board member discovered an archived 1942 Calgary Herald article about a man catching a lake creature in the Bowness lagoon, Hays says.

The article described the catch as an Ogopogo, which in Canadian folklore is a lake monster said to inhabit Okanagan Lake in British Columbia.

The artist says he received really good feedback from Calgarians floating by in the lagoon. (Brad Hays)

It was actually a 1.5-metre ling fish, but that didn’t dampen the bemused artist’s inspiration.

After consulting with the city, he decide to paint a mural of the imaginary creature under the Bowness Bridge. 

Painting ‘Bownessie’

After coming up with the idea, there were a few hoops Hays had to jump through to get the drawing of the creature up on the wall.

“I wanted to do it before the water level rose [but] … we had to get permission for all of these different things that tied up some time. And by the time everything was finally approved, the water level had come up,” he said.

“At the time, there was no way to really figure out how to do it without being on a boat of some sort or standing in the water.”

He ended up opting for a paddle board, which luckily became the perfect solution for painting the giant fish.

“I ended up freehand drawing it and I just took my time and went out whenever I could,” he said.

This is the artwork in the initial stages. Hays says he added Rocky Mountains to the mural to help tell the story. (Brad Hays)

Despite the appropriate floating device, it still came with a few challenges.

“I had to go kind of top down into the water to get the lower parts and then stand up to do the highest section. And when I was doing the lower part, I would be crouched down and my legs would start to get numb and I’d have to get them out of that and put them in the water,” he said.

Those going on a lazy float in the lagoon will now get a front row seat to the mural and notice a few details that help tell the old story.

In the Ogopogo’s tail, Hay’s drew an owl flying through the Rocky Mountains and Foothills, and added sketches of rocks from the lagoon’s riverbed.

“It sort of showcases two different concepts through the design and, yeah, that in itself tells the story of where this fish came from,” he said.

The community’s response to the new mural has been positive, with many stopping by to ask Hays about the mural as he painted it.

“Just the engagement that I got from people floating by and from Seasons of Bowness restaurant, it was incredible,” he said. And it’s so fun, like hanging out, chatting to people about it, too, because it does tell an amazing story about the history of the park and what it was and where it is now.”

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

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