BCIT instructor helps BC Parks create artwork that connects culture and place

BCIT Steel Trades Instructor Don Smith didn’t hesitate to volunteer his time to help transform a shipping container office at Joffre Lakes Provincial Park into a meaningful artwork that connects culture and place.

“I thought it was a cool idea,” says Don, a member of the N’Quatqua First Nation and an instructor in Steel Trades at BCIT.

The project first came about because Jennifer Kardynal, who worked on the project while in her role at BC Parks, wanted to see if there was a way to improve the look of the shipping container office used by staff implementing a new day-use pass pilot program that helps manage the busy traffic at the park last summer.

She initially spoke with Don’s brother Dennis — who is on the N’Quatqua Band council — who suggested the two of them connect since Don’s well-known skill in metal fabrication seemed a good fit for the artwork.

From there, the project moved quickly. Jennifer and Don collaborated on the look of the artwork in a way that both of them describe as “organic.”

It’s all the more meaningful as the installation highlights Don’s N’Quatqua culture and connection to the place, while reminding park guests of the many animals who call the area home.

Creating artwork that makes an impact in the community

Don didn’t keep track of his time but estimates he spent about 40 to 50 hours creating artwork for the structure, crafting bespoke steel shapes representing different animals residing in Joffre Lakes Park — a stunning natural landscape of old growth forests, turquoise lakes, and glaciers, located about 30 kilometres east of Pemberton in the shared territories of the St’at’imc Peoples, including the N’Quatqua and Lil’wat Nation.

“They are all animals from the area,” shares Don. “There’s an eagle with a watchful eye, wings outstretched in flight. There’s also a deer, a wolf, a fish, two grizzly bears, a cougar and even a wolverine, an animal that is now once-again spotted at Joffre Lakes.”

Creating the steel artwork for the project involved many steps.

The designs had to be edited digitally, then each piece had to be cut out using the plasma table at BCIT, where he has worked for more than a decade teaching Metal Fabrication. Students in the program learn to work with steel, aluminum, and other exotic metals from developing concepts and ideas to crafting finished products from the ground up — applying theory and practice within a large, shop environment.

“I made some of them bigger, some of them smaller, kind of like to scale, like a deer would be taller than a cougar, and stuff like that,” he explains. “That took a bit of work.”

After sizing each animal and cutting them out on the plasma table, they all had to be powder coated in different colours too.

In addition to his time and skill, Don also donated all the material used to create the steel artwork.

“If you know me, that’s just what I do,” says Don.

He plans to personally install each of his artwork onsite before the public unveil that is expected to take place in a ceremony at the park mid-May. Don wants to ensure each steel-crafted animal is securely in place and arranged well on the structure.

“I was just so thrilled to see them,” said Jennifer. “They’re so unique.”

Visitors will be able to enjoy Don’s uniquely-crafted creatures for years to come, adds Jennifer, of the artwork’s legacy: “They’ll have such an impact in that space.”

Metal fabrication is a dynamic and rewarding career. Fabricators work with steel, aluminum and other exotic metals. Learn more about Metal Fabrication training available at BCIT, including the Foundation program and Apprenticeship.

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