The artist who turned the canvas of Great Canadian Coaches buses into murals paying homage to Canada and its people has died.
Dave Sopha, 73, died May 16 of pancreatic cancer, according to a news report.
Larry and Lorna Hundt, owners of Great Canadian Coaches, paid tribute to the man known for his artistic tributes.
“Dave began hand-painting our coaches 25 years ago. His beautiful works of art on numerous Canadian themes have made countless clients and observers very proud of our beautiful country. Dave was instrumental in designing our Great Canadian logo, and our mascot, Cpl. Mackenzie,” Larry Hundt shared with his wife, Lorna, in a Facebook message.
Hundt added that he believes Sopha’s artwork inspired many coach companies to use their 45-foot long billboards in a more creative way. Sopha’s commitment to the company ran deep. He was always willing to assist the Kitchener, Ontario, business by driving coaches when needed or sharing his remarkable stories with clients.
Murals promote Canada
The airbrush artist was integral to Hundt’s vision of using his buses to promote Canadian unity after the province of Quebec nearly seceded from the country in 1995. His first coach for the company featured landmark scenes of Canada.
“We wanted to promote Canada from sea to sea, and encourage people to see their country,” Hundt said. “Because of the themes and the strong images on our coaches, we have hundreds of people taking pictures of our coaches. When they arrive in tourist areas, (the bus becomes) a tourist attraction in itself. It’s a strong brand, it’s a strong message. We are very fortunate that we kind of fell into this by making that emotional decision the night of the (secession) referendum to go ahead with these graphics. It was a huge turning point for our company.”
In 1998, Sopha created his first tribute painting to the military on coach no. 1111. The number commemorates the end of World War I. Hundt says the coach was very popular with the military and veterans, and as a result was requested for memorial events. Sopha’s second coach mural honoring veterans and peacekeepers was numbered 1919 to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Versailles to officially end the war.
He went on to paint a large wall mural dedicated to Canada’s military. He spent more than 10,000 hours creating the Portraits of Honour. In an interview before he died, Sopha said he wanted to put a face to the names of the 158 soldiers who died serving their country in Afghanistan.
Hundt says Sopha’s crowning achievement was touring from coast to coast with his 60-foot coach painting of the soldiers that perished in the Afghanistan War. He also devoted his time to painting many first responders who gave their lives in the line of duty.
“Dave was one of the most giving individuals we have ever met,” Hundt said. “His years of time devoted to his beloved work will be a very fitting legacy to a man with great talent, passion and commitment to the brave men and women who serve our country. His legacy will live on. And we will never forget the impact he had on our company, our culture, and our philosophy. We are all fortunate to have had him in our lives.”
The Hundt family found a way to honor Sopha one last time even they weren’t able to visit him because Ontario was under lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, shared Michelle Tupman, Hundt’s daughter and Great Canadian vice president.
“A few of us gathered on the veterans’ coach two weeks before he died and drove it to his house,” she said. “His family was able to move his bed so that he could see us out the front window, and that was how we were able to say goodbye to him and show him that coach one last time.”