We recently toured the murals of Sussex, a small town about forty minutes outside of Saint John. Normally known as "Dairytown" for its well known award winning dairy by the same name, and its rich farms, Sussex is now also promoting itself as the Mural Capital of Atlantic Canada.
Artists came from all over North America to paint murals on blank walls all over town. Some of them are sponsored by local companies or organizations, but they are all themed to link to the Sussex region in some way: personalities, famous buildings or events, or uniquely Sussex businesses. There is a Sussex Ginger Ale mural, with colourful sodas splashing out and period bottle caps splashing out of the soda; there is a collection of royals who have visited Sussex in the past, all in one mural; there is a tribute to the nurse and doctor who opened the first hospital; there is a tribute to three Sussex men who played in the NHL (of course).
This mural is a tribute to the Picnic King, painted by Joel Haynes from Great Barrington, Massachusetts. It intrigued us right away, the title is so fabulous- but the story's even better. James Daniel O'Connell grew up poor in the mid nineteenth century. As a twelve year old, he put half of his earnings into a piggy bank and spend the rest on a picnic for more the neighbourhood kids, called the Gumdrop Picnic. As an adult, he made a fortune in the US and Cuba and funded free annual picnics for children throughout North and Central America and Cuba. He became known as the Picnic King. When he died in 1943, he left trusts dedicated to the continuation of the picnics. And there is still a Gumdrop picnic held in Sussex every July.
Walking guides to the murals can be purchased at the Sussex tourist information in the old train station, for $2.00. The proceeds go towards the maintenance of the murals. The grandmother of the attendant we bought our guide from remembered the Picnic King from her own childhood and used to talk about him. She said he was known to give away gumdrops, but in this mural, it's actually money he's throwing. In the rest of the mural, extending on either side there are panels depicting a railroad and a factory, the source of the Picnic King's wealth. It's such a friendly, warm, luxurious way to give back to a community. Irrelevant, yet right at the heart of philanthopy. I love this story.