United In History Celebration
July of 2013 saw the culmination of years of work when Shearwater Resort & Marina hosted the unveiling of two profound projects paying respect to the rich history of the British Columbia Central Coast.
Former Shearwater President and current Chairman of the Board of Directors for Shearwater Marine Group, Craig Widsten, wanted to create a legacy project as a way of honouring his father and cementing Shearwater’s place in history.
The Widsten family immigrated to Bella Coola in 1894 with a wave of original Norwegian settlers in the area and has very close ties to the area. Craig’s father, Andrew, was for many years the marine superintendent at Ocean Falls prior to joining the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II and becoming a captain in the forces Coastal Marine Division. After the war he returned to Ocean Falls and when the federal government put the Bella Bella RCAF Station up for sale, he purchased the base, started a private marine business and established the community of Shearwater.
|“We had never really paid tribute to the origins of Shearwater as a military base,” says Craig of his legacy projects, “I know my father wanted to do that.”|
The “United in History” projects located at Shearwater include both a historic portrait mural painted on the side of the original RCAF hangar and a waterfront war memorial commemorating the area’s veterans and the community’s history as a war base during World War II.
The unveiling of both the monument and the mural, which took place on July 6th, 2013, was attended by hundreds of people from the surrounding communities, various government agencies and relatives of the honoured individuals from across Canada.
The event was a ceremonial celebration with many of the First Nations wearing regalia in honour of their culture. Guests witnessed a traditional eagle down blessing of the memorials and were treated to songs, dance and a traditional Salmon feast.
Craig Widsten acknowledges that these projects would not have been possible without the sponsorship of the Denny Island Community Development Association, the dedicated involvement of the Heiltsuk First Nation, the support of Veterans Affairs Canada, RCAF Squadron 101 from Port Hardy and numerous other enthusiastic contributors.
Working closely with the Heiltsuk First Nation and the Denny Island Community, Craig Widsten (Chairman of the Board of Directors of Shearwater), commissioned renowned muralist Paul Ygartua to paint a mural on the side of the original RCAF hangar at Shearwater.
The mural depicts the faces of the aboriginal chiefs, elders and immigrant pioneers who made a significant contribution to the establishment of the greater Bella Bella community and its historic development during the 19th and 20th century.
|“It has been an honour for me,” says Ygartua of the project|
“It has been an honour for me to paint portraits of the extraordinary people of the Heiltsuk Nation… and the individuals that contributed to the historical events that took place from the time that John McLoughlin arrived in the area in the early 1800's.”
After joining Craig Widsten in attendance at a memorable Heiltsuk potlatch in Bella Bella on May 21st 2013,Paul Ygartua commenced painting. His progress was recorded by a live webcam that was watched eagerly by members of the surrounding communities and a worldwide audience.
The mural took 21 days to complete and stands at 120’ by 22’, with the historic faces of Bella Bella overlooking the beautiful Central Coast.
The 'United In History' mural displays portraits of the extraordinary individuals who contributed significantly to the historic development of the greater Bella Bella Community during the 18th and 19th century.
Creation and interpretation is Paul’s life.
In painting he is at home in all mediums and his production is prodigious. A qualified gold and silversmith with a degree in design, Paul turned to painting immediately after graduating from the Liverpool School of Art in Great Britain. His most recent works provoke a response that is both physical and emotional. His application of colour and line enables Paul to capture the essence of the subject with spontaneity unparalleled by many. His technique in colour is startling and impressive and his use of the pallet knife is bold and convincing.
In June 1940, construction began on a strategic RCAF Station including two full size flying boat hangars with ramps for beaching aircraft, accommodations for up to 1,000 men, a hospital, gymnasium/theatre and administration facilities.
On December 7, 1941, the station received notification that a state of war existed with Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbour. The following day, Squadron Leader Fred S. Carpenter arrived at the station with two Supermarine Stranraer flying boats. Operational patrols commenced immediately with two Stranraer's responding to the sighting of a Japanese submarine in the Queen Charlotte Strait, north of Vancouver Island. The RCAF Station had 750 personnel by 1944 and had a major impact on the community of Bella Bella throughout the war effort. RCAF Station Bella Bella was closed September 1, 1944, and later purchased from the federal government by Andrew Widsten.
It is in tribute to this rich history that Craig Widsten promoted the erection of an impressive World War II monument at Shearwater on the site of the original Bella Bella RCAF Station. The monument consists of a totem pole carved by local Heiltsuk artist, Ian Reid, a model Stranraer constructed by the Canadian Museum of Flight and a cenotaph honouring the region’s veterans and recognizing local wartime incidents.
The totem pole was specifically created to honour the Central Coast First Nation World War II veterans and the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers from the reserves of Hartley Bay, Rivers Inlet, Bella Coola, Klemtu and Bella Bella. These memorial images were unveiled with a formal military dedication ceremony sponsored by Squadron 101 of Port Hardy and a traditional Heiltsuk blessing.
Warrior PoleThe Warrior Pole was carved by Heiltsuk artist, Ian Reid, as part of the United in History project to stand as part of the memorial monument. In the words of Reid; “The pole will be erected in Shearwater and will be installed by the crew and descendants of the people who went to war and still live here. This pole will stand for generations to come and people will never forget the sacrifices that were made to protect our country, and we shall never forget the fallen.”
A model Stranraer 949 was created as the monument centre piece.
The model has a 17ft. wingspan and acts as a rotating weathervane. It was built by the Canadian Museum of Flight, Langley BC, by craftsmen Alfred Frost, Cyril Meadows, Peter Roberts and Gordon Varney.
The Stranraers gave good service to the RCAF in carrying out anti-submarine patrols for the west coast Flying Boat Stations.
In 1944, most of the Stranraers were withdrawn from service and replaced with the Consolidated Canso and Catalina flying boats. Stranraer 949 was the last “Stranie” in service with the RCAF and it was sold to Queen Charlotte Airlines in 1949.
The other day, Jack shared the photos of the United in History mural unveiling at Shearwater. I was stunned by the beauty and breadth of what you have accomplished. Your patience and determination are well rewarded. I know that running a business on the Central Coast has unique challenges. You have my complete respect and admiration for what you have done in a challenging environment.
I remember when those hangers and buildings were in disrepair. There was not much to work with in Shearwater in the late 60s. I also remember as a young man when your father Andy would deliver fuel with the Lady Marjory to our gillnet camp in Smith inlet. I think there was just he and a deckhand , (probably you), handling that large, underpowered tug with the 90x30 wood scow with fuel tanks lashed on deck. My father spoke of your dad with the greatest respect. The pioneering ingenuity and determination were evident in your families work to carve a business, and employment for many out of a harsh environment.
You should be very proud of your life’s work at Shearwater. The mural and the pole and the statue are fitting symbols.
I have only one question, “How did you arrange such a beautiful day?” My memories of a fine summer day on the Central Coast meant light drizzle!
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