Ghost statues helping keep history alive
There’s always someone waiting to greet visitors to Red Deer’s downtown.
Cast in bronze, the city’s collection of 10 Ghost statues mingle with citizens on sidewalks and parks to tell their Red Deer story.
Pat Matheson, the city’s public art co-ordinator, said the statues continue to fulfil the original objectives.
“A lot of it had to do with bringing people downtown and creating something unique and different that Red Deer can claim as its own.
“I think it’s really working,” said Matheson, who gave a presentation on the ghost statues on Wednesday night at Red Deer Public Library downtown, as one of Red Deer’s centennial activities.
Previously sponsored and managed by the Downtown Business Association, the Ghost program was taken over by the city in 2007.
“I really do think they bring a lot of interest from outside the community because a lot of people do know about our Ghost collection. I think it does help to beautify the downtown. It is a tourist draw,” said Matheson.
Statue locations have also seen a reduction in vandalism and graffiti so they have a working function along with a beautification function, he said.
Occasionally, people interact with the statues, like in December when winter scarves were wrapped around the necks of the children in Reaching Out in front of the Recreation Centre.
“Things like that, where people kind of take ownership after a while in positive ways.
“It’s kind of interesting how people do interact with them. I love that part.”
The sculpture is of two children, one wearing a leg brace, helping each other climb onto a large granite stone. Unveiled in 1999, it was created to help celebrate the 75 anniversary of the Downtown Rotary Club and to draw attention to Rotary International’s program to rid the world of polio.
Matheson keeps watch over the statues and is in charge of regular maintenance to keep them looking their best.
He has found Fire! Sound the Alarm, of volunteer firefighters responding with a horse-drawn wagon located by the downtown library, is a favourite place to stash a geocache container.
“You learn a few things as you go along,” laughed Matheson, who was unsure what the cache was at first.
Matheson, who does Ghost statue walking tours in the summer, said the statue of civic leader Rev. Leonard Gaetz sitting on the bench on the corner of Gaetz Avenue and Ross Street, is another popular downtown Ghost.
“One of the goals was to have the largest bronze heritage collection in Canada. We just come shy. In the research I did, we needed 12.”
Red Deer’s 10th statue Waiting for Gordon, beside Sorensen Station, was installed in 2012. It features Julietta Sorensen looking down the street, with a cup of coffee in hand, for her husband and bus driver Gordon Sorensen. The couple was instrumental in developing public transit in Red Deer.
Funding for Ghost statues is tied to large city construction projects, which usually have money set aside for public art, Matheson said.
“If the City Hall expansion were to happen, there’d probably be a public art component to it,” Matheson said.