Both sides of 55 railcars were reported tagged with graffiti on July 12 in the CN yard in Hay River, but they are only the most recent in a long tradition of questionably-placed art in town.
“In response to the vandalism conducted in Hay River last week, CN police are conducting an investigation along with the local RCMP into the matter,” Warren Chandler, the senior manager of public and government affairs for CN, wrote in an e-mail to The Hub. “Vandalism is a very serious matter as it also involves the unsafe and illegal act of trespassing onto rail property.”
The tagged train is far from the only victim of property defacement in town, as businessman and Hay River Metis Council president Wally Schumann can attest. Schumann said – while his business has so far been spared – the building next to the Poison Graphics shop on Vale Island was recently tagged, as well.
“That’s not something business owners and residents want to see,” he said. “And it’s not good for tourism, either.”
When it comes to miscreant artwork the most popular place in Hay River appears to be the underside of the Pine Point Bridge. Virtually every inch of reachable concrete has been painted and signed, but Schumann has less of a problem with that location.
“I’m not saying go ahead and do it, it’s still defacing public property and illegal,” he said. “But some of the work here is really good. Whoever is doing it should get some canvas and sell it.”
The graffiti on the railcars and some of the work under the bridge bear a striking similarity to each other and, in some cases, even the same signatures. Unlike many other acts of vandalism in town, there is no discernible hateful message or lewdness on the trains or the bridge – just names in bright colours and curious patterns.
“Some of it looks really good,” said Schumann. “But there are other avenues to express your artistic side, and defacing public property isn’t the place to do it.”
Kim Tybring, facilities manager for the Town of Hay River, has made it his mission to eradicate graffiti on town buildings and other property.
Tybring said that, when graffiti is regularly painted over, the perpetrators rarely come back more than twice.
“It’s just a waste of time for them,” he said. “The premise is that these people are taking ownership of your space, but that sort of anti-social behaviour doesn’t thrive in well-maintained places.”
Tybring explained that, although the Don Stewart Recreation Centre and the parks are relatively free of graffiti, places like the skating rink park in the 553 neighbourhood are losing battles.
“The pocket park back there is pretty uncontrollable,” he admitted. “But at the rec centre, we don’t tolerate anything. Even magic marker scribbles in the bathrooms are gone the same day.”
While vandalism may be most commonly thought of as being committed by teenage boys, Tybring said girls are just as likely to be the perpetrators.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “Boys can be a destructive force like no other, but girls tend more towards graffiti.”
Despite the endless supply of teenagers with spray paint and magic markers, Tybring remains optimistic about the state of graffiti in Hay River. He said he saw lots of young people out helping in the town’s spring cleanup efforts, and that his continuous routine of checking for tagging and painting over it has been reasonably successful.
“Young people always want to be special,” Tybring said. “But it would be great if they could be special in taking pride in their community, too.”
— Sarah Ladik