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Union United Church marks 30th anniversary of Mandela’s Montreal visit

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WATCH: South Africa's first Black president Nelson Mandela visited Montreal more than three decades ago. It's a moment the Union United Church is marking in a monumental way. Global’s Phil Carpenter explains. – Nov 16, 2020

A giant mural to honour Former South African president Nelson Mandela has finally been unveiled at the Union United Church in Little Burgundy.

Uncovered Monday, the piece was created to mark the 30th anniversary of the late president’s visit to the church, the oldest Black congregation in the city, in June 1990.

Members of the church, part of a global movement against apartheid and recognized by Mandela, are thrilled about the painting.

“We haven’t seen great leaders like this (recently) that stood up for Blacks and Blacks of the world,” said Charlene Hunte, member of the church board.

“It means a lot for me to be here standing in 2020 to be honouring this king.”

Read more: Mural in Montreal’s Little Burgundy to honour Nelson Mandela

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The fresco was painted on the eastern wall of the building facing Atwater Avenue in Little Burgundy, next to the Lionel Groulx metro station.  Artist Franco Égalité, who won the commission for the project, jumped up and down as the mural was unveiled.

He said he was nervous because he hadn’t seen the painting in its entirety before the unveiling, but said he’s now relieved.

“It actually looks like my creation,” he laughed.  “It looks like my sketch!”

Michael P. Farkas, president of the Round Table on Black History Month which initiated the project earlier in 2020r, believes monuments like this are important to celebrate the story of Blacks in Montreal.

“Because a lot of people come to Montreal and they wanna know where the Black folks are and what stands for them,” he told Global News.

Read more: Nelson Mandela Pavilion inaugurated in Montreal

He pointed to other outdoor frescoes in the area honouring renown black figures from the neighbourhood.  One pays tribute to Montreal jazz legend Oscar Peterson and another of his sister and music teacher, Daisy Peterson Sweeney.

Égalité agrees that the Mandela project is educational.  He said it was even for him, since he had no idea the late civil rights leader visited the city in 1990.

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“I was born in ’94 so I wasn’t there,” he laughed.  “But this was a great opportunity to learn about this story and about this incredible man and the crowd that supported him when he came to Montreal.”

The story and the public’s reaction to him in Montreal are things he said he and his 6-person team tried to show in the image.

Organizers said they’re in the final stages of fundraising for the $30,000 project, and they’re just thrilled to have one more public record of the Black story in the city.