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Portage Avenue mural honouring Winnipeg music legend taken down

The mural formerly located at 1349 Portage Avenue.
The mural formerly located at 1349 Portage Avenue. West End BIZ

A popular mural on Portage Avenue was taken down on the weekend, leaving local music fans perplexed and frustrated.

The mural, located at 1349 Portage Ave., honoured Winnipegger Gar Gillies, famed creator of Garnet Amplifiers.

The mural — which also depicts the Guess Who, who used the amps — was erected in 2003, when the building was the home of Second Encore Music store, and was apparently paid for by the music store’s owner and the West End BIZ.

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Both were surprised to see it taken down over the weekend.

“We were not aware that the mural had been removed until this weekend,” said incoming BIZ director Joe Kornelsen.

“Now that we’re aware of the issue, we’re working to resolve it.”

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Former Second Encore owner Scott Gair called the removal “shocking” in a post on a Facebook group about Manitoba’s music history.

“I’m not sure if the new tenant realizes the significance of the mural.”

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The late Gar Gillies.
The late Gar Gillies. garnetamps.com

When Second Encore shut its doors, Gerg’s Music took over the location, followed by a pawn shop. It’s now a Great Canadian Travel Group office, although the travel agency does not own the building.

On Monday Gillies’ daughter, Jocelynne McAvoy, found the mural in pieces in a nearby alley.

“It was a dead shock … I was up in arms,” said McAvoy of the find.

“I see this pile of wood — in the mud, in the trash — in the back of the building and I’m like ‘no, no friggin’ way, no way.’

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“It’s not just because it’s my dad, to me it’s a disrespect to the Guess Who and to the artist.”

After a back-and-forth with the building’s new tenants, the West End BIZ and Take Pride Winnipeg, McAvoy said the mural was picked up and taken to the West End BIZ for storage.

She said she’s been told the mural will eventually be restored and put up again, but not necessarily at the same spot.

Ian Kalinowsky, president and owner of the Great Canadian Travel Group, told 680 CJOB that the mural is in the process of being restored, and that there was a miscommunication between Take Pride Winnipeg and the West End BIZ.

“Parts of it were rotten, there was an infestation of ants, the brick facade on the wall was coming loose, and the paint on the brick was very badly peeling,” said Kalinowsky in an email.

“We carefully removed it from the building and put it in the back lane.

“The key is that it will be restored and will return to its former glory on a building that will be safe.”

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Gillies, who died in 2006, was a notable trombone player who toured Manitoba in the 1940s with the Gar Gillies Jump Band, and later rose to fame as the creator of the distinctive Garnet amps, which powered Winnipeg legends like the Guess Who and Neil Young early in their 1960s careers.

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The Guess Who’s Randy Bachman has said Gillies’ amplifiers ‘created’ his guitar sound, and many other notable artists from Winnipeg and beyond have sworn by the distinctive tones of Garnet equipment in the decades since.

Garnet shut its doors in 1989, but Gillies continued to build custom gear until the early 2000s.

His amps continue to be highly sought-after by collectors, and have been exhibited as part of the National Music Centre’s collection in Calgary.

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