Riders Mural Vandalized with Swastikas in Stony Plain

The Riders Mural in the CN pedestrian tunnel in Stony Plain, has been vandalized as of July 3, 2021. At first look, vandalism in a tunnel by a skate park is almost a rite of passage, but in this case, the vandalism represents a growing concern with extremism.

The graffiti that has been added on the mural, which the Town of Stony Plain proudly unveiled in 2019 to “showcase life here and now,” are several swastikas with the words “white supremacy.” By the looks of it, the vandal had actually spray painted the Buddhist swastika, or sauwastika (arms pointing counter-clockwise), and attempted to paint another Nazi swastika (arms pointing clockwise) before being stopped midway.

We found this mural as it was one of the points along the Stony Plain mural tour. The location on the map is in the wrong place. After playing the guessing game on whether the noted mural was the skate park or the pedestrian tunnel, we found an online article in The Grove Examiner which pointed to the tunnel.

According to The Grove Examiner article, the mural by Daphne Cote was installed July 18, 2019. From what we were able to see, other than the vandalism mentioned, the graffiti images within the tunnel are the recognizable works of Edmonton graffiti artist AJA Louden. Louden’s Piney P and Larry the Cactus were both present within the tunnel.

Some information on the swastika. While the swastika has been connected with Nazi Germany and white supremacy, the symbol has also been used in Buddhism (sauwastika), and cultures around the world including ancient Europe (fylfot for clockwise, gammadion for counterclockwise). In Buddhism the counter-clockwise sauwastika symbolizes the auspicious footprints of a Buddha and may sometimes be seen in the chest of Buddhist statues. The image below shows the Tian Tan Buddha (aka The Big Buddha) on Lantau Island in Hong Kong. It is the largest bronze sitting Buddha in the world, and the sauwastika is clearly etched.

In ancient Rome, the gammadion was used both as architectural decoration, and in early Christianity. Early Christian catacombs in the Eternal City contain etches of the crux dissimulata (the allusive cross). Although we never saw the symbol during a guided tour, the symbol is displayed in the legend of popular symbols found in the Catacombe di Domitilla. From the graphical legend accompanying this image though, it says “the swastica is a polytheistic symbol of the sun. If it turns to the left it means life. If it turns to the right it means death.” The latter part of the statement with the fact that the gammadion may also be found in a Jewish catacomb in Rome may have led to how the Nazi swastika came about.

In North America before World War II, the Swastika was most often associated with the names of sports teams as a good luck symbol. In the central Alberta region, the Edmonton Swastikas was a women’s hockey team

Edmonton Swastikas hockey team photo from 1916. Photo source: Birthplace of Hockey.

After World War II, swastikas were eradicated in the West for its symbolic connection to Nazi Germany, which was responsible for the Holocaust which killed 6 million Jews. Any usage of the symbol outside of Buddhism is now only associated with neo-Nazi extremism and white supremacy.