Local Coast Salish artist Luke Marston has spent the past two and a half years carving an elaborate monument to Portuguese Joe Silvey. Nearly every facet of the sculpture represents some element of Marston’s family’s story.

Local Coast Salish artist Luke Marston has spent the past two and a half years carving an elaborate monument to Portuguese Joe Silvey. Nearly every facet of the sculpture represents some element of Marston’s family’s story.

Luke Marston’s latest project will rest at Stanley Park

Luke Marston has spent the past two and a half years working on an elaborate monument dedicated to Portuguese Joe Silvey.

Luke Marston is forging a tribute to local history that will soon find its way to Stanley Park.

Marston’s latest project is a monument dedicated to Portuguese Joe Silvey — a pioneering renaissance man who first set foot on these shores in 1860 — and his Coast Salish wives, Khaltinaht and Kwahama Kwatleematt.

It’s an elaborate piece that Marston has spent the last two and a half years designing, investing his time willingly because he has personal ties to those it’s meant to commemorate.

“Portuguese Joe Silvey and Kwatleematt were my great-great-grandparents,” Marston said, “so for me, it’s something I hold close to my heart.”

Following the premiere of a documentary chronicling the lives of Silvey and his wives, Marston decided he wanted to create a sculpture of some kind to pay tribute to his ancestors.

Now, following years of collaboration between Silvey’s descendants, members of Coast Salish nations, the Portuguese Consulate and the artist, Marston’s project is nearing completion. It’s an elaborate piece that effectively mirrors his family’s nuanced history.

In her 2004 biography The Remarkable Adventures of Portuguese Joe Silvey, author Jean Barman relates how Silvey jumped ship from a whaling boat to join the Fraser River Gold Rush sometime around 1860. He met and married Khaltinaht after returning to the coast and settling at Point Roberts.

Over the ensuing decade, Silvey harvested dogfish, boiling them down for oil to sell to local saw mills for $0.25 a gallon. He then returned to whaling after an unsuccessful bid to lease fishing grounds off of Brockton Point.

As whaling wound down, Silvey diversified yet again. He opened a saloon in Gastown called The Hole in the Wall, competing for business with the district’s namesake, John “Gassy Jack” Deighton.

Then, when it seemed as though Silvey, Khaltinaht and their daughters Elizabeth and Josephine had finally established a prosperous life for themselves, Khaltinaht died. Silvey retreated to Brockton Point and built a house adjacent to Deadman’s Island. He operated a new saloon while building himself a fishing sloop he christened the Morning Star.

While sailing past Sechelt aboard the Morning Star, Silvey met 15-year-old Kwatleematt, Marston’s great-great-grandmother. They married, and the family prospered.

Silvey “pioneered seine fishing in British Columbia,” offering him a prosperous enough livelihood, when combined with the sale of his Gastown property, that he could afford to relocate his family — to which he and Kwatleematt would eventually add six boys and three girls — to Reid Island, southwest of Porlier Pass.

Marston’s monument will be cast in bronze later this spring before it’s installed on the south shores of Brockton Point in Stanley Park, close to where Silvey and Kwatleematt lived before moving to Reid Island.

Over the last two and a half years, Marston’s design for the monument has been refined to the point that nearly every facet of the sculpture represents some element of his family’s story.

Silvey was born on Pico Island in the Azores, a Portuguese archipelago in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. Pico is home to a sleeping giant, a stratovolcano that shares the island’s name. To represent both Mount Pico, Portugal’s highest peak, and Silvey’s life as a fisherman here on the West Coast, Marston incorporated a 14-foot-tall traditional cod lure crowned by an eagle’s head, its beak pointing skyward, as the sculpture’s centrepiece.

Life-sized figures of Silvey, Khaltinaht and Kwatleematt, separated from each other by the lure’s fins, stand facing outward at its base. Each fin, in turn, is carved in low-relief with intricately detailed symbols and figures — grape vines, dogfish, whales, salmon, and an homage to Khaltinaht’s Squamish grandfather, Chief Kiapilano — representing various elements of the family’s history, rendered in a fluid Coast Salish style Luke and his brother John have become famous for.

The sculpture will rest on a raised base of either black or white stone, Marston said, and “around the base will be Portuguese stone we’re having shipped from Lisbon [that will feature] a mosaic of the master stonemasons and bricklayers of Portugal, who were world-renowned for their bricklaying.”

To fund the project, the Portuguese Joe Memorial Society will sell engraved bricks for a pathway leading to the monument, limited-edition copies of Marston’s Shore to Shore silkscreen print, and bronzed maquettes — scale models — of the monument itself.

For now, Marston is busy crafting the original figures and lure out of planks and blocks of yellow cedar in preparation for a March 14 delivery date to a foundry in Red Deer, Alta.  Molds and casting will be completed by the Harman Sculpture Foundry Ltd., Marston said, because it’s one of the few foundries in North America able to cast works as whole pieces, rather than as sections that are then welded together.

The official unveiling of the monument is slated for Sept. 28, Marston said, the day following the park’s anniversary celebration. It will serve to commemorate both the 150th anniversary of Portuguese Joe Silvey’s first encounter with Khaltinaht and the 125th anniversary of the founding of Stanley Park.

Jill Weaving, the co-ordinator of arts, culture and the environment with the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, said the monument is “going through our process. There are a number of reviews we do before we take it to the Park Board for approval. We’ve taken the proposal to the public art committee and they have approved it.”

Projects intended for the Brockton Point totem area of Stanley Park “require letters of support from the three First Nations —the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish — and we have received letters of support from them,” Weaving said, “so we’re moving on to stakeholder and community consultations.”

The next step in the  process involves posting signage at the prospective site to inform members of the public of the proposed project, she added.

If people come forward to reveal an existing use for the site that conflicts with the project, an alternate location may have to be found. With the support of First Nations behind the project, however, Weaving thought a conflict would be unlikely.

Plans for the park’s anniversary celebration are still in the works, Weaving said.

“We’ll have some kind of a celebration on Sept. 27, but we’re also potentially looking at hosting celebrations over the summer that will be free and family-friendly and involve everything from ecological walks through the park to performers. There will be picnics and music and First Nations performances. Outdoors in Stanley Park in the fall is a bit cooler,” Weaving added, “so it changes the nature of what you do in the park. That’s why we’re thinking of a season of celebration.”

For more information on the Portuguese Joe Memorial project and sponsorship opportunities, click here.