The Pride and Power of a Horse

I really do have the coolest job. This week I travelled to Whitehorse, capital of the Territory of Yukon, to deliver training.  In addition to meeting some truly wonderful people, I was introduced to a remarkable city surrounded by a stunning vista of mountains and water. With a population of about 25,000 it seems to bring together the best of living in a small community combined with the amenities of a city. Heck they even have a WalMart, a Superstore, and a Canadian Tire.

To be honest, I didn’t know a lot about Whitehorse prior to going there. Populated by many First Nations, early settlers, and surrounded by seasonal hunting and fishing camps, I did know its growth increased significantly when gold was discovered there in 1896. Largely fueled by a series of financial recessions and bank failures in the 1890s that caused widespread unemployment, the Klondike gold rush drew dreamers and mavericks from around the world.

While the rush only lasted a few years, essentially ending in 1899, it is estimated that about 100,000, most new to prospecting, headed for the gold fields. While its likely only 40,000 actually made it there, and only ten percent of those were successful in getting any gold, even fewer became wealthy. Even when they did, many gambled or drank their wealth away.

The Klondike is remembered for the hardship endured by the would-be prospectors, and is likely best known as the result of writings by Jack London (Call of the Wild) and Robert Service (Legend of Sam McGee). 

Located just north of the British Columbia border, Whitehorse gets its name from the White Horse Rapids on the Yukon River - a major obstacle for potential prospectors during the Gold Rush. The frothing rapids were said to resemble the manes of white, charging horses.

Today, while mining remains a significant economic generator, Whitehorse has also done a great deal to position itself as a potential destination for wilderness and adventure tourism.

As a result, I shouldn’t have been, but ultimately was surprised to see, a stunning sculpture of a majestic and powerful horse, rearing up on its hind legs on the hilltop overlooking Whitehorse as we drove into the city from the airport. 

Upon getting closer, it was even more interesting to see that the regal, almost 3.5 metre tall, horse was cleverly composed of a compilation of scrap metal. Not just any scrap, but as I later learned, scrap made up of metal momentos donated by people from throughout the Yukon. 

Contributions included baby spoons, a cast iron grill, iron spurs donated by relatives of an RCMP officer, a collection of wires donated by a utility company, tools, and even a piece of a thermometer that captured the coldest recorded temperature in the Yukon – a bone chilling minus 81 degrees Fahrenheit.

The sculpture came into being because, as per a recent bylaw stating that all new City buildings must allocate one percent of construction costs toward a piece of public art, a call was issued for artist proposals.

The horse sculpture submitted by artist Daphne Mennell was the only one proposing an iconic piece that included local residents in the creative process by asking them to donate metal objects that held meaning for them.

Mennell’s irresistible idea resulted in a piece of public art that did what public art is supposed to do – increase public awareness and appreciation of the arts. Public art is not frivolous as some might think, instead it has the power to invigorate and enhance our public spaces, inspire imagination, make us think, provide a sense of belonging, and transform where we live, work, and play. It can be several stories high or bring attention to the earth we walk on. It can inspire conversation, help us find tranquility amid stressful lifestyles, or perhaps even stimulate discourse as the result of controversy.

Successful communities are those that have a clear brand and personality. Investing in the development of a Municipal Public Art Policy that guides a Public Art Program can be a key mechanism for making that more of a reality. Successful public art programs help communities develop and express their unique sense of place and character, and in turn, draw tourism and investment activity to the city. As such it’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

Posted on 10-09-11


Great Blog!  Right on!

•Posted by Letisha McFall  on  10/11/11  at  10:59 AM


More reasons for me wanting to head north to Whitehorse! Brenda… take me with you next time.

•Posted by Janet Naclia  on  10/17/11  at  09:22 PM

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