Whether it’s art imitating life or life imitating art, the gift of a pair of “big, heavy, muscular and colourful pieces of art” will be impressive focal points at the St. Thomas Elevated Park when it officially opens Aug. 27.
The metal sculptures are the creation of artist and blacksmith Scott McKay, commissioned and donated to the park by his father Ian, a resident of Waterloo.
A model of the first installation, Fear Not The Wind, will be on display at the St. Thomas Home Show, this weekend at the Timken Centre.
“People love the visuals (of the elevated park atop the Michigan Central Railroad trestle) and now that there is going to be art up there and people will see it this weekend at the home show,” advised Serge Lavoie, president of On Track St. Thomas. “And the week after that, we will have the model on display at the St. Thomas Elgin Public Art Centre for about a month.
“It is both a piece of heritage and a piece of art and ties into the community,” added Lavoie.
Heritage in more ways than one, as McKay’s family has played a prominent role in the development of St. Thomas and Elgin from the mid-1800s on.
Brothers John and William McKay arrived in St. Thomas in the late 1830’s from Glasgow, Scotland. John built a residence and mercantile shop at 76 Old Talbot St., now the home Cedarhurst Spa, located opposite what will be the entrance to the elevated park.
William served as Elgin county clerk from 1854 to 1882 and his son, Kenneth Weir McKay, took over that position in 1883 and held it until 1935. He also established The Municipal World in 1892, the oldest continuously published monthly municipal magazine in the world.
William Scott McKay was St. Thomas city solicitor from 1938 to 1968, followed by son Bill McKay who held the position for over 30 years until his retirement in 2000.
Speaking to City Scope from his workshop and store located in Lawrence Station, Scott McKay explained “The original intent was to pick up on the imagery associated with the railroad. And I find a bridge is a way people find to another place. That’s why I though having an indicator of some sort on the top would be appropriate.”
The indicator in this case is a working weather vane atop Fear Not The Wind, a 20-foot high installation to be placed at the midpoint of the bridge decking.
“Although you can feel the wind, it’s nice to see which way the wind is coming,” added McKay, who draws upon experience from earlier chapters in his life for his works.
“I worked for Suncor in Fort McMurray and three different diamond mines in Canada’s north. I’ve always liked the industrial look and industrial architecture. The strength of it and I find it naturally blends into my work because I’m an old millwright from years ago. I find using similar material builds a lot of strength into the piece. Not only physically but aesthetically as well.”
Mounting the work atop the MCR bridge will present its own challenges, noted McKay.
“I’ve worked with up to 450-ton cranes installing equipment that weighs 50 or 60 tons but this isn’t going to be anywhere near that. I haven’t figured the exact weight but I don’t think it’s even going to be a ton. If you put together a good plan then you just go through the steps. The dimensions of it are going to be a bit challenging I guess.”
Crafted using Corten steel for the bottom 10 feet, the sculpture is scheduled to be lowered in place some time in July.
“Corten is used a lot in the railroad industry,” advised McKay. It can rust and they really don’t need to maintain it. And the rust acts as a protective layer.”
“Scott will weld it in place out there,” added Lavoie. “We will put in place before the wooden decking. There will be planters made of Corten steel and they will also be put in place and then build the deck around them.”
The second piece of sculpture, Mixed Signals, will be located at King Street by the approach ramp leading to the elevated park.
“It will be 15 feet high,” McKay pointed out. “It resembles more the signage and signalling associated with the railroad. It will be a 10-foot pole and the top five feet will be adorned with many different signals. I’m fabricating all the signals, I’m not re-using ones. I’m mimicking them if you will. I’m using glass lenses in them and I want the light from behind to illuminate and not rely on an energy source.”
McKay can truly vouch both will come with a lifetime guarantee.
“It’s designed to last, in theory, forever. I always try to consider the after-care of my pieces. I use a lot of materials that stand up forever.”
With some of his works on display in Windsor, Thunder Bay and Chatham, has McKay had a more unusual installation?
“I would think not. This will definitely be the highest piece I have ever done. I would say this is my first kinetic piece of art. I mean intentionally kinetic. In that aspect, yeah the most unique.”
Lavoie indicated the public will shortly begin to see activity at the site of the park.
“Earthworks will begin at King Street in April. We will be building the ramp before the end of April. Those two blocks will be landscaped and looking presentable.”
Behind the scenes, Lavoie is impressed with the fundraising efforts which only launched at the end of February.
“The fundraising is pushing the one-third mark, which is fantastic. We’re really, really thrilled with that because it has only been going for four weeks. I’m really surprised where the donations have been coming from. There’s a young woman in Washington, D.C., who is memorializing her father who lived here.
“The money is really coming in steady. When we met as a board last week, we knew we had a green light the whole way now. We’ve got money in the bank so we can start construction next month.”
And Lavoie confirmed the planning process for the next stage of development is underway.
“We’ve already started working on the plans for Phase 2,” said Lavoie, “which is the second half of the bridge plus the approach that goes all the way out to Munro Avenue (north off Fingal Line). That’s next year’s project. And once the talks between St. Thomas Energy and Entegrus are done, there’s a very good chance we might hear something about a trail going out from the city limits all the way to Tilbury (west of Chatham, a distance of 120 km).
“It’s pretty real now compared to 2010 when I first was in front of council and promoted the idea.”