By Sarah Zimmerman
Nestled in the rainforest on the coast of northwestern B.C. is a towering grizzly bear sculpture fashioned from dozens of lengths of steel. The 14.5-foot sentinel stands watch over the newly completed Oviatt Bike Park in Kitimat – a gift to the community by long-time Kitimat resident, businessman and philanthropist, Jack Oviatt.
The state-of-the-art Oviatt Bike Park was opened in August and the massive art installation is both a watchful guardian of the small coastal town’s newest community asset, but also a symbol of resilience, pride and connection to the land.
The towering piece was painstakingly fashioned from a mixture of one-inch solid square steel and 2.5-inch flat bar in corten steel. Over the course of six months, Terrace-based photographer, artist and blacksmith, Steve Rogers, painstakingly pieced the giant grizzly together in a huge shop.
The labour of love resulted in yet another piece of public art located in wild, outdoor spaces that Rogers has developed a reputation for in northwestern B.C.
Rogers’ company, Great Bear Ironworks, has become known for its production of distinctive steel sculptures that celebrate local wildlife, but which are also installed in some very unlikely locations in remote northern B.C. He’s most well known for what has become a staple to visit in the neighbouring City of Terrace – the Terrace Wolfpack.
Affectionately called “the wolves,” by locals, the collection of six steel sculptures is installed on a spectacular rock outcropping located on the aptly named Terrace Mountain that overlooks the mighty Skeena River.
The installation became an instant community favourite and is a go-to hike for locals and visitors alike looking to explore nature and experience the sculptures in person. It was experiencing the wolves that prompted Oviatt to select Rogers for the bike park project.
The grizzly installation is one in a series of sculptures located in wild places around British Columbia’s rugged north-central coast. The public art installations are just some of the projects Rogers has created, in addition to a number of pieces for private art collectors.
The pieces ranging from wolves to ravens are often located in spaces where the art can be experienced in a unique way. The grizzly stands out both because of its size and location, but also because of its powerful posture.
Standing on its hind legs, front paws curved low in front of its belly with its giant jaws wide open – the sculpture exudes power and a bit of ferociousness.
“I wanted to represent the bear differently than a bear on all fours. My interest came from watching videos of Kodiak bears and grizzlies fighting on the beach. I wanted to emulate that aggressive prideful posture, rather than a subdued four-legged stance,” says Rogers.
For Rogers, creating art that transforms people’s experiences of wild spaces is exactly what he’s trying to achieve. And for Jack Oviatt, installing an art piece that is so big and impactful at the newly minted bike park transforms that space to draw bikers, art lovers, locals and visitors alike.
“Along with the park, it will draw people to Kitimat,” Oviatt says.
The bear and the park are like a love letter to a community that he has lived in and built his business in over the course of a long career. Oviatt wanted to leave a legacy that would benefit the community for generations to come, promote healthy living and give back to a community that has given so much to him and he couldn’t be happier with the result.
“He’s fantastic,” says Oviatt of the giant steel bruin. “We have had great feedback from people all over. He fits well in the park.”