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Acclaimed carver creates culture-bridging welcome sign for Vancouver Island town

John Marston’s work marks the road to reconciliation in Island community
Stz’uminus carver John Marston’s new welcome sign was unveiled this week at the south end of Ladysmith. (Ashley Marston photography)

By Duck Paterson

A marker in Ladysmith’s road to reconciliation is now in place at the south end of the Vancouver Island town.

Members of Stz’uminus and Ladysmith councils unveiled a new welcoming sign – wooden, with metal lettering and created by well-known Coast Salish and Stz’uminus carver John Marston, Qap’u’luq.

The sign, installed along the Trans-Canada Highway at Baker Road, includes depictions of an eagle as well as a sea wolf’s transformation into a killer whale. A territorial acknowledgement is also clearly stated.

“When I do my artwork it’s pretty simple, but when we bring in statements of unceded territory, that brings in a whole new level of understanding and relationships,” Marston says. “When I started working on this project I really began to realize what we were collaborating on: the relationship between Ladysmith and Stz’uminus.”

He said it’s meaningful to him to have the territorial acknowledgement at the top of the sign.

“It really made me proud to be able to put that message up there, especially at a time when people are starting to question those statements,” he said. “It makes me very proud, it makes me very proud of Ladysmith, it makes me proud that I can show my kids and say this is the work that we are doing together.”

Mayor Aaron Stone called the sign a “masterful” piece.

“The sign speaks to the strong commitment that our community has to working with the Stz’uminus community on economic, social and community efforts,” he said. “It says so much about the culture and storytelling of the area.”

Marston said the eagle is a purposeful connection to his welcome figure at Ladysmith Secondary School, while the sea wolf is representative of Stz’uminus nation.

“I usually go from my sketchbook to starting the project, but this was different. It (had) to be a digital version, it (had) to be precise measurements for the engineers to go over, it (had) to be blue-printed and then permits had to be applied for,” he said. “It was a lot of work and time-consuming, but it was interesting. I really believe in the work that our communities have been doing and I appreciate all the support from all around, and the patience.”

The project was funded by a federal grant, and Western Forest Products donated the wood, including Douglas fir timbers and Garry oak detail.

Plans for a new entrance sign at the north end of Ladysmith are still being refreshed and will incorporate colours that will match wayfinding signs being installed around the downtown,

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