If you can’t catch salmon this summer, a new art festival in Terrace wants to make sure you can still admire them.
“This year we’re seeing a decline in salmon where nobody is really allowed to catch them. Not for food, ceremonial purposes for First Nations, or for sport purposes,” said Dave Gordon, festival organizer and vice-president for the Terrace Greater Beautification Society. “It just seems like an opportune moment to celebrate salmon.”
The Skeena Salmon Art Fest will showcase pieces done by regional artists here and around the world at the Terrace Art Gallery throughout the month of August. Following the announcement of widespread salmon fishery closures along the Skeena and Nass Rivers, Gordon said this exhibit provides a way for people to express their strong admiration for the fish through artistic expression.
“We live in an area that still has tremendous wild salmon resources, clean water and clean air. I’ve travelled the world and don’t see this in very many other places. So being able to celebrate salmon in a way that didn’t involve taking a piece of oak and bonking it on the head, I think is important. It’s core to our culture.”
Open calls for submissions began earlier this spring, and Gordon said they have received more than 100 responses from across northern B.C. and internationally – even as far away as Mongolia. But it’s the regional talent that Gordon said the fest will aim to spotlight.
“We have some of the best First Nations carvers in the world carving in and around Terrace. And you don’t see their art here, except for a few pieces here and there,” he said. “There are a number of people who do commissions around the world and you don’t see their artwork here.”
The gala’s grand opening will be on August 3 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the art gallery, right after the start of Riverboat Days, where adjudicators will look at submitted pieces and award prizes. During the celebration, people can sip on a new brew made by Sherwood Mountain Brewery specifically for the festival, or try a new caffeinated blend from White Goat Coffee – although, Gordon assured, neither will be made with salmon.
There are also plans to incorporate more salmon and First Nations artwork around the city over the next few years with murals, giant carvings and other public art displays.
The first salmon-themed mural was installed by local artist Casey Braam on the Bank of Nova Scotia’s wall in April, and there are plans for one or two more murals in 2018. One will be painted by a team led by Smithers artist Facundo Gastia during Riverboat Days, stretching across a 40-foot by 25-foot concrete canvas on the Stantec building on Park Avenue.
Another piece of art, a gigantic wooden fish sculpture, is in the works as well.
The carving will be from local artist Joerg Jung of JJ’s Wood Art, and is made from an old spruce tree that was felled along Highway 16 towards the Kasiks Wilderness Resort between Terrace and Prince Rupert, yards away from the banks of the Skeena River.
At the base of the tree lay a memorial cross with photos in remembrance of a young Prince Rupert teen who died in a car accident near that spot in June 2009. It had been cut down by road maintenance crews after a candle had set fire to the massive spruce.
Five pieces of the tree’s trunk, over 44 tons of wood, were then hauled to Jung’s yard. He said he counted the rings and believes the spruce had lived by the Skeena River for roughly 200 years.
“And in order to grow a tree in that short amount of time, that big, he must have really good soil and nutrients,” Jung said.
“I assume there would be a way to check on the DNA, and I’m pretty sure that you would find salmon DNA in there.”
Jung said he plans to have the 9-foot salmon mounted three feet off the ground so it looks like the fish is rising from the riverbed, weaving together the history of the spruce tree into its creation.
“With a tree that old and that big, plus being on the ground for years already, there were lots of issues that I had to work through. But I still wanted to commit to carving it into this piece of spruce because of the cool history behind it and the story that we can tell with it,” he said.
Gordon said he hopes the sculpture will help encourage tourists to stop in the city and take a look around.
“It’s easy to drive through Terrace, go over the overpass… get to Ferry Island, and before you know it you’re driving to Smithers,” Gordon said.
“We needed reasons for people to get off the highway.”
The piece, dubbed the “RBF” for “really big fish”, will be unveiled to the public during the Kermodei Tourism Backyard BBQ at the Terrace Visitor Centre on August 10, its permanent home stationed outside the building along Hwy16.