The world-class view at the Malahat Skywalk naturally needed the surroundings to be enhanced by world-class art of a cultural significance.
That’s where Stz’uminus First Nation’s master carver John Marston of Chemainus came into the picture.
“In the beginning we obviously wanted to recognize we’re on the traditional lands of the Malahat and Coast Salish people,” said Skywalk general manager Ken Bailey.
“One of the ways you can recognize the cultural significance is through their carvings.”
The Malahat First Nation was consulted about a carver who might fit the bill for accentuating the Island’s newest tourist facility with works reflective of the region’s rich Indigenous history. The discussion started and ended with Marston.
“It’s an honour for me to be able to be part of public projects like that,” said Marston. “I take the opportunity it gives our nations to talk about our history and who we are.”
Bailey started with the Skywalk project in November of 2018 and planning included meeting with Marston to talk about his work. Installations were done about three weeks prior to the Skywalk’s opening in July, with an unveiling the day before opening.
“It’s a long process of conversation getting to know him and him getting to know us,” said Bailey.
“We were very fortunate John aligned with us on so many things and he was a well-respected and well-known carver in the culture in the community. It was fortunate for us to build a relationship with him so quickly.”
Two pieces by Marston, with assistance from Moy Sutherland, grace the facility.
One is a canoe that hangs in the rafters of the cafe and gift shop. It’s a project Marston designed in 2006 and initially started in 2008. It was about 60 per cent complete.
“Other projects came along and the canoe sat in the back and I worked on it here and there,” said Marston.
Finishing it worked out perfectly as part of his commitment to the Skywalk.
Concepts were submitted for the main carving to be placed outside the ticket booth before one was eventually chosen.
“We did three different concepts and that one really seemed to match up with what Malahat First Nations was hoping for with history and the importance of canoe culture,” said Marston.
Called The Thundering Prow, it’s a remarkable work of art and requires a close look to see the different components of the thunderbird, the canoe and salmon interconnected within one old-growth piece of wood from Nitinat.
“Fortunately, I had planned it out from the beginning and it went smoothly, but it was a huge amount of work,” added Marston.
“We gave him complete artistic freedom,” noted Bailey. “We didn’t have a pre-determined idea of what that sculpture was going to look like. We were so pleased with how it turned out.”
“It’s an important thing for us as First Nations to talk to the general public that we’ve been here thousands of years,” explained Marston.
“I think it’s really important to have that thunderbird and canoe that’s held so sacred by Malahat. It represents the thunderbird’s home. It’s also part of honouring our history.
“Canoes are such a big part of our culture. It was interesting to work with the idea of canoe and sculpture.”
Marston was there on the opening day of the Skywalk with his family and it was a proud moment to see his work displayed so prominently.
Passholders feel a strong connection to be shared.
“It’s also something they want to be proud of to bring friends and family,” noted Bailey.
The Malahat Skywalk features a 600 metre elevated TreeWalk with interpretive features throughout, leading to a 32 m tall spiral tower with views from a 360 degree lookout and a return via the Nature Trail at ground level through the forest as conditions allow.
As the Skywalk continues to evolve as a cultural and tourist destination, visitors can expect more additions to the attraction.
“We’ve talked about engaging with younger carvers in the future and bringing out other pieces,” said Bailey.
“For us, our vision has been to be a nature-based experience. A fundamental piece of that is sharing the Indigenous experience. They’re a fundamental piece of where we come from and where we’re going in the future.”