Tofitians seeking funds to return Weeping Cedar Woman to Tofino

The 30th anniversary of the Meares Island anti-logging protest falls on April 20 this year and a group of Tofino organizations are lobbying hard for the district to secure the Weeping Cedar Woman’s presence at the event.

Godfrey Stephens took just two weeks to carve a 300 year-old wind fallen Western Red Cedar into the West Coast’s tallest anti-logging activist and an iconic symbol for the 1984 protest.

She stood 6.4 metres high with her right hand held out to say stop to the loggers while her left hand pointed to the earth. Long wooden tears stemmed from her eyes.

The 1984 protest resulted in the Nuu Chah Nulth First Nations declaring Meares Island a Tribal Park and the BC Supreme Court ordering that the Island not be logged.

The Weeping Cedar Woman no longer lives on the Coast and during Tuesday’s regular council meeting in Tofino locals Eileen Floody and Michael Mullin presented as a delegation on behalf of a coalition of local organizations that want to see her return.

“She’s a statue that represents an important time in the history of Clayoquot Sound,” Floody said.

Floody said the statue would be a valuable educator and reminder of what took place as well as an attractive draw for tourists.  

 â€œThere’s huge benefits to this project we think: bringing our communities together, celebrating a piece of our history, bringing a piece of public art that’s of great significance to the town and has that kind of tourism appeal,” she said.

The coalition has pegged Anchor Park on Main Street as the desired location for the statue and Floody said the Weeping Cedar Woman could kick start the district’s plans to upgrade Main Street and draw more people to the area.

Council supported the idea of the statue returning to Tofino but the price tag presented a speed bump as Godfrey Stephens is not prepared to donate the piece.  

“He needs to be paid for his work, that’s probably the largest piece of the puzzle,” Floody said. “The groups that are involved would very much like to help with the project as much as we can but obviously there’s going to need to be financial assistance from the district.”

Tofino’s council has been here before.

The Weeping Cedar Woman’s return to Tofino was last considered at an Aug. 24 council meeting in 2010 when then-councillor Stephen Ashton suggested Tofino purchase her. “The 1984 protest was one of the first times First Nations asserted their rights over traditional territories,” he said at the meeting, as reported by Westerly News reporter Yasmin Aboelsaud. “First Nations and locals in Tofino standing side by side against MacMillan Bloedel and logging companies, much of that spirit is embodied in that piece which was really vital to that movement.”

The statue’s cost at the time was believed to be $20,000.

Coun. Duncan McMaster recalled sitting in the audience when this council discussion took place and wondered if any progress had been made since Ashton’s pitch.

 â€œIt was turned down but it was suggested that the people that were interested go forth and raise some money to purchase it so I’d like to know how much you’ve raised,” he said. “If I was really interested in something I could raise $20,000 in three years.”

Michael Mullin said fundraising for the project without the district’s endorsement has been difficult but that in-kind support is in place and could potentially cover the statue’s preparation, transportation and installation.

“The big ticket item is the actual purchase of the statue,” Mullin said. “I can’t really answer in dollar terms but I would say that probably if the district could consider the acquisition, the public support groups could do almost everything else.”

Coun. Dorothy Baert had a seat on council in 2010 and said council’s concern at the time was not so much the cost of the statue but whether there was enough community support for its return.

She said the fact that a large contingent of public organizations brought the idea forward this time around rather than one municipal councillor, as had been the case in 2010, is significant.  

Coun. Al Anderson doubted the feasibility of the coalition’s April 20 goal.

 â€œI am in strong support of bringing her back (but) we don’t even know the price at this point and April 20 for full installation seems like a really ambitious timeline,” he said.

 Mullin acknowledged Anderson’s concern but stressed the importance of the Weeping Cedar Woman’s presence at the protest’s 30th anniversary event.

“The energy reality here is that were we able to accomplish this and were she in place at Easter it would be really, really, powerful,” he said. “If she trickles into town next August and is just placed somewhere that’s very different, so I want to keep in mind the deadline is scary but has force to it.”

Mullin noted the anniversary falls within Tofino’s Earth Week festivities.

“(The statue) brings people together and it allows people to bring their energies together and she will express Tofino’s commitment to conservation into the future,” he said. “She has way more significance than just as a piece of art and she’s a very powerful figure that will make a big difference in uniting the communities in this area.”

Mayor Osborne suggested possibly working out an interim deal to secure the statue at least temporarily for the anniversary while continuing negotiations for its purchase.

Coun. Ray Thorogood said the statue would benefit Main Street but balked over the district paying the entire bill.

Coun. Cathy Thicke agreed and said council could be willing to cover a portion of the cost if the groups involved raised the lion’s share.

“I don’t think we can in good conscience step out on a limb and purchase the whole thing but I think a partnership of financial support is one that would sit well with me,” Thicke said.

Baert said Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funds have already been dedicated to improving Main Street and securing the statue could conceivably be included within this funding.  

This drew the ire of Menno van Barneveld, a Tofino local and Main Street business owner, who told council he had attended the meeting to raise his concern over the impact the 6.5 metre statue would have on Anchor Park’s panoramic view.

He said that while the coalition represented a number of organizations there was no input from Main Street residents or businesses and asked council to consider an alternate location and not let the April 20 deadline lead to any hasty decisions.

Council assured nothing would be rushed into.

Several councillors suggested grants and other funding sources may be available and directed staff to work with the coalition to investigate funding opportunities for the statue’s purchase.

McMaster asked if the statue’s $20,000 price tag council discussed in 2010 was still accurate.

Mullin responded that would be a “very low estimate.”

Godfrey Stephens spoke to the Westerly News on Thursday and said he is seeking $30,000 for the statue.

He said the statue is probably worth more than that but he wants to see his Weeping Cedar Woman retire in Tofino because of her local significance.

“She represents the first big protest, the first real protest, in Tofino,” he said. “It was a monumental time in history; 5,000 people came into this sleepy little village from freaky hippies to diplomats.”

He said he would not object to being paid in monthly installments but an interest rate would need to be worked into such an agreement.

Stephens lives in Victoria but visits the Coast often.  

He moved to Tofino in 1967 and lived at Florencia Bay.

“There were freaks coming in from everywhere,  they heard about this wild place on the West Coast of North America, you can’t believe what it was like,” he said.

He recalled sitting around a campfire at Lost Shoe Creek listening to the 1969 moon landing on the radio.

West Coasters were “rabid” in opposition when word spread in 1984 that as much as 90 per cent of Meares Island was set to be logged, according to Stephens.

He wanted to carve something that would symbolize the anti-logging vibe and had only about two weeks to create such a symbol in time for the protest when his friend Joe Martin told him of a wind fallen Cedar on Meares Island.

“We zoomed over there in (Martin’s) speed boat dragging a dugout canoe with all the chainsaws and everything in it and we found this fabulous windfall,” he said.

Rod Palm brought the Cedar to Strawberry Island and Stephens traded a mask he had carved for some money and a new chainsaw—“a fantastic sharp Husqvarna”—and got to work.

“Lots of people would be coming around and giving ideas,” he said. “I had lots of input.”

He said he drew inspiration from ancient Roman and Greek statues as well as First Nations totem poles on the West Coast of North America to carve her long tears.

After the protest ended, the Weeping Cedar Woman remained at Strawberry Island from 1984 to 2000 before moving to Tofino’s Whale Centre at the corner of Third and Campbell.

A few years later Stephens took her to Salt Spring Island where she rested at his daughter’s art gallery attracting attention but no buyers.

About three weeks ago Stephens heard the district may be interested in purchasing the Weeping Cedar Woman so he brought the statue to his workshop in Victoria where he is waiting to get the go ahead before he begins preparing her for the West Coast.

“I’m not going to do it on my buck anymore, I’ve never had a cent from it and it’s time I got a little bit of help,” he said. “As soon as I hear for sure that it’s happening I’m going to start working with a vengeance.”

He said before she is placed in Tofino there is work to be done to ensure she can withstand the weather and a solid base will need to be crafted to hold her firmly in place.

Stephens said the statue’s arms have been altered and made sturdier, she has been copper sheathed, and her breasts have been modified because he believed they were taking attention away from her message.

“They’re a little too much in your face,” he said. “The simple message is there’s something very sad here and the right hand is saying stop right where you are and the left hand is pointing to the earth; consider the earth.”

It is a message he hopes to return to Tofino soon.

“Everyone must be in constant vigilance against the vandals, against anybody who wants to log the old trees,” he said. “I know that’s unreasonable to a logger but we are just temporary those trees are a lot older than we are.”

At the conclusion of Tuesday’s council meeting one audience member who was visiting Tofino from Telkwa, emotionally expressed his support of the Weeping Cedar Woman.

“The events that happened 30 years ago changed the way that we perceive the value inherent in our forest resources and it’s changed, perhaps not far enough, but it has changed the practices of the forest industry,” he said. “I believe that this project will resonate with people far beyond the borders of your community.”

He suggested presenting the project effectively though social media and crowd funding could help the district raise enough money to bring the Weeping Cedar Woman home and he kicked off the fundraising campaign himself by donating $20 at the meeting.

reporter@westerlynews.ca