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Unique bird sculptures land on the Gaetz Brook Greenway

Local artist aims to bring joy to his community through wood carvings placed on hiking trail

3 min read
Calvin McKay stands in between four wooden sculptures. To his right are two unfinished birds and to his left is a finished owl with its wings up and pennies for a face. Also, on his left is a large eagle standing the tallest of the four sculptures.
caption Calvin McKay tends to four sculptures in his workshop. The finished and standing owl is named Lill after his mother, and he plans on giving the large eagle away to a friend. Lill will join Owlvin and McEagle on the trail soon.
Calvin McKay

Piles of feather-shaped alder wood surround Calvin McKay on the floor of his workshop. As a self-taught sculptor, he uses reclaimed materials and natural elements found on his property to create one-of-a-kind art pieces for his local trail.

McKay is an inventor, and some projects take only a day to create. Two of his recent sculptures are wooden birds, called Owlvin and McEagle, perched along the Gaetz Brook Greenway trail.

The greenway stretches from East Chezzetcook to Musquodoboit Harbour, in the eastern portion of Halifax Regional Municipality.

McKay lives locally and walks his dog on the trail every day. “I get to meet a lot of people, and a lot of people come to my yard. My yard is full of stuff. So, I thought it’d be nice, especially during COVID, to make a little something for everyone.”

A large wooden owl sculpture with pennies for a face sits atop a metal frame with a blue sky in the background and water behind it.
caption On the Rogers Brook Bridge sits Owlvin, McKay’s first sculpture on the trail, peering back at trail users. The sculpture’s head rotates, and McKay routinely visits to twist it in the opposite direction.
Jay Tofflemire

Throughout the pandemic, McKay noticed more people walking and using the trails. When he started working on pieces in his driveway during the first lockdown, community members visited his home regularly to watch him work.

Canadians are using trails about 50 per cent more than they did before COVID-19 began, according to the Trans Canada Trail 2020 Survey. Physical exercise and mental health are popular factors for Canadians choosing to visit trails and spend more time in nature.

Connie Campbell is an avid user of the greenway, and when she first saw McKay’s art on the trail, she thought it was exquisite.

“We could all use those little bright spots right now, and I think the sculptures do that,” says Campbell.

She says that Owlvin and McEagle add community spirit to the trail, and they help bring people to the greenway who then realize how great being in nature feels. It encourages them to return.

A wooden eagle sculpture perches on logs on top of a metal frame with trees in the background.
caption McKay’s eagle sculpture, McEagle, sits by the Gaetz Brook bridge on the greenway trail.
Jay Tofflemire

McKay makes no profit from his sculptures and does not take commissions. He says there is an ongoing list in his head of people he wants to make sculptures for, and he enjoys giving them freely. He drops them off on a neighbour’s front steps or gives them away to friends, and he thoroughly enjoys the entire process.

McKay says he is “geared to have fun.”

With experience in welding, McKay creates solid frames to keep the wooden birds safely in place. After mounting them on the trail, he routinely checks on them and sprays the sculptures with linseed oil to help preserve and protect the wood.

The Gaetz Brook Greenway is provincial Crown land, and SATA Trails Society has a letter of authority giving them control over the management of the trail.

Jay Tofflemire is on SATA’s board of directors and says that McKay’s sculptures on the trail are permitted additions and are a big hit with the community.

“The community support and the people that are viewing (them), is unreal,” says Tofflemire.

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  1. K


    incredible soul to think of others and use his talents to bring joy to so many. I have family on the Eastern Shore using these trails every day ! Thank you for thinking of others!
  2. D

    Dana McLellan

    I walk the trail regularly and I very much appreciate the new additions - they're incredible!! I actually missed the owl and baby first time around, it (they) just fit right in. The artist is a terrific example of the human spirit - selfless, caring and generous. Thank you so very much!!
  3. D

    Don & Debbie Spence Trail Stewards.

    Thanks Calvin. Your work is awesome and we appreciate providing us with such great works of art.
  4. N

    Nancy Christie

    This is absolutely fantastic. I had the privilege to meet Calvin in September when visiting some friends and got to tour his awesome home and enjoyed a ride on his zipline in his back yard..Fantastic person and such a talent...
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