Chainsaw totems a “gift” to Qualicum Beach from the Legion?

A large chainsaw carving of three faux totem poles fashioned into a bench is the latest “gift” to Qualicum Beach, apparently to be installed on the public square near the Town clock beside the CIBC bank on Memorial Avenue. These carved poles bear rudimentary images of flowers with a dragon fairy gargoyle crouched on top of the centre pole.

According to the chainsaw carvers who produced this “bench,” the project was paid for by the Qualicum Beach Legion (#76), reportedly as a gift from (or to?) the mayor. However, a member of the Legion remarked “it was a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

Yet, at the Council meeting on October 6, 2021, Mayor Wiese reported that he attended the Out of the Woods event at the Legion “where they carved a new bench for us,” describing the bench as “absolutely magnificent, but it is huge, and finding a place to put it is going to be a challenge. … We’ll look at options from the public as well, to see where they want us to put this bench.”

Who is blowing smoke here? One wonders who the “they” are that the mayor will be getting his direction from regarding where this “huge” chainsaw carved bench will be installed? Should it be installed on Town property at all? Perhaps it could be auctioned off to support a worthwhile charity, like supporting veterans in need.

If this huge bench is placed at the public square next to the CIBC, this will be the second piece of “public art” that the QB Legion has requested be placed along the Town’s main street, the other being another chainsaw carved bench installed earlier this year on Memorial Avenue near the Farmers Market. An existing bench that had been in that location was removed, and its concrete base demolished to make way for a new concrete base poured to fit the chainsaw bench. The existing bench was presumably sold by the Town on Facebook for $100, as many of QB’s cherished benches reportedly are now (see Letters), for reasons not yet adequately explained by Town staff or by Council.  

The Town’s Facebook page says that the Out of the Woods carving event was hosted by the Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce as part of the their Fall Fest. Oddly, the QB Chamber of Commerce has posted nothing about their 4-day Out of the Woods/Fall Fest event either on their website or on their Facebook page. One wonders why.

The QB Chamber of Commerce states on its website, “As the voice of business, the Chambers [sic] mission is achieved through the hard work and dedication of our members, Board of Directors and Staff, who work in partnership with the community.” The QB Chamber’s chainsaw carving “event” presented a public face to visitors that raises questions and concerns. Does it represent the image our Town would like to present to the world, and is this kind of event and use of taxpayer dollars beneficial or detrimental to Qualicum Beach? Has the community ever been consulted about whether they wanted this kind of event or chainsaw carvings on display around our Town?

Chainsaw event disrespected first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

The chainsaws were fired up for the Out of the Woods chainsaw carving event from September 30 to October 3, 2021 as part of the Chamber of Commerce Fall Fest. This event completely ignored Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, 2021 to commemorate the lost children and survivors of residential schools.

Instead, in apparent oblivion, the carvers produced a trio of “totem poles” joined by two planks for seating. The carvers are not identified as members of any First Nation. Totem poles are important symbols of BC’s west coast indigenous peoples. It is now universally acknowledged that it is inappropriate and disrespectful for non-indigenous people to produce (and profit from) pseudo First Nations artwork. In our opinion, this cultural appropriation seems contrary to the very spirit of reconciliation, and does not reflect well on our community.

Three faux totem poles with a gargoyle on top will, according to the carvers, be installed permanently at the Town Clock plaza on Memorial Avenue next to the CIBC bank building, apparently as a gift from the Legion from (or to?) the mayor.

Brandishing chainsaws in apparent denial of climate emergency

The frenzied display of chainsaw carving carried on over four days, the organizers and participants seemingly oblivious to the impact on the health of residents and visitors alike, and on our image. The roar and fumes of dirty 2-stroke gas/oil fired engines marred the fine fall days QB was enjoying after much needed but steady rains. In apparent denial of the planet’s climate emergency, empty jerry cans littered the carving area adjacent to the Town’s tennis courts.

Whether coincidence or not, on September 29, 2021, the Town issued a press release about having been nominated for a “Climate and Energy Action Award.” Parksville-based PQB News dutifully reported the Town’s press release online on September 30, and published the same article in its October 6 print edition with the misleading headline “Town of QB up for award” — knowing that the Town had not won the award. What PQB News also failed to mention was that the Town had been nominated by an energy industry PR firm. These kinds of gratuitous award nominations are a form of greenwashing for their corporate sponsors like BC Hydro and FortisBC.

Whatever happened to “Support Local?”

One of the QB Chamber of Commerce slogans is “Support Local,” something we whole-heartedly support but apparently the Qualicum Beach Legion does not.

Was this arts and culture opportunity made available to other artisans, especially local or Vancouver Island artisans? Shea Larking, one of the chainsaw carvers hired for Out of the Woods, said that they live in the Shuswap area of BC’s interior. And, in November 2020, the Legion commissioned (with tax dollars?) a chainsaw carver from Alberta to create the bench now installed near the Farmers Market. According to the PQB News, the carver used QB Legion president, Ben Villeneuve, as the model for one of the figures depicted on the chainsaw bench.

How were these chainsaw carvers selected to be the sole artists for the Out of the Woods event? It begs the question, are these carvers or their agent in some way connected to Town officials? If this is true, does this constitute an undisclosed financial conflict of interest?

Who selected them? What were the selection criteria? If no other artisans were invited to compete for this opportunity to earn a commission, why not? Do the Legion and the Town not consider artists to be part of our local economy, like most other communities do?

An attempt to resurrect the ill-fated TimberFest in 2022?

At the April 7, 2021 regular Town Council meeting a Delegation from the Qualicum Beach Legion asked for the Town’s support for an ‘Out of the Woods’ event to be held Sep 30 – Oct 3, 2021, described by CAO Daniel Sailland as “a mini wood carving event… which serves as an introduction to the larger TimberFest event planned for spring of 2022.” This mini event was supposed to feature driftwood hand carving, plus a photo contest, and a large carving done on site to be permanently displayed in the community.

At the conclusion of the presentation by the Legion’s Ben Villeneuve (President) and Mary Brouilette (2nd vice-president), Councillor Filmer had to ask them the obvious question — what exactly is the support they want from the Town, other than permission?

Villeneuve said they needed a big cedar log plus $10,000 to pay for its “carver and his expenses”. Brouilette added that they had also applied for funding from the Parksville Qualicum Foundation (of which she was, and still remains, a Director) “to take care of all the other expenses.” They were also requesting use of the Town-owned area behind the Curling Club, plus the usual in-kind services (such as garbage collection, barriers, Town social media promotion). [We previously reported Mary Brouliette spreading false information in her promotion of candidate for council Sarah Duncan during the May 2021 Qualicum Beach Council by-election.]

According to CAO Sailland, a larger financial contribution would be required by the Town for the cost of installation and ongoing maintenance of the major carving. [This at a time when apparently the Town cannot afford to maintain the existing park benches and has unilaterally ripped many of them out.]

This year (2021) the Town created a special grant-in-aid program that has divvied up some $80,000 of taxpayer money to provide individual grants of up to $5,000 “to community groups and organizations that have been negatively affected by COVID-19.” The Legion was given $5,000 to assist with its Out of the Woods event.

Chainsaw carvers, their truck advertising their wares, get ready to head out of town after Out of the Woods.

Readers / taxpayers might reasonably ask: How much of the $5,000 was spent on locally provided goods and services? Probably not much. Villeneuve told Council that “Ryan Cochran (an event promoter) will be getting us the (6 or 7 or 8) hand carvers.” Presumably someone already had a favoured carver in mind for the bigger piece. It’s not likely that any competitive tendering was involved.

Regular readers will recall that a year ago we provided our critical analysis of Ryan Cochran and his travelling TimberFest circus. Our skepticism remains.

We acknowledge the importance and value of attracting visitors to Qualicum Beach whose spending on hospitality, products, services and supplies brings much needed revenue to our local businesses — especially in the tourism shoulder seasons. However, there is a myriad of art, culture and recreational events that would better reflect our Town’s character. Speaking of which, kudos to all who contributed to the very successful “Cross on the Commons” cyclo-cross event that was held on October 2nd and 3rd in Qualicum Beach.

Into and out of the woods — our tax dollars go up in smoke

The QB Chamber of Commerce/Legion’s Out of the Woods event culminated with a presentation of the chainsaw carving of this totem pole “bench” to the Town for “permanent installation.” After the event concluded, a couple of the chainsaw carvers retired, not to the Legion but into the woods behind the Town’s tennis courts — where they were observed smoking cannabis.