A new neon sculpture is beaming yellow light in the shape of a plane from the the roof of the liquor store in the Salish Plaza in downtown Chilliwack.
‘Golden Eagle’ was created by artist Lucien Durey, as a public artwork commissioned by the owners of Salish Plaza in tribute to Chilliwack entrepreneur Earl Brett and the plane he mounted on his garage roof in 1951.
A Brett family member who still lives in Chilliwack told The Progress they’re thrilled to look skyward to see a replica of their grandfather’s plane recreated in neon light.
“My dad flew and Pop flew. Airplanes were always a big part of our lives growing up,” said Janice Battis, Earl Brett’s granddaughter. They all called their grandfather, “Pop.”
“It’s really neat to have Pop’s past revisited this way.”
The Brett family has a storied past in Chilliwack, as well as a strong entrepreneurial spirit with business interests in auto sales, repairs, and saw mills.
Earl Brett is recognized for generally popularizing flying in Chilliwack, and for opening the first airport in a field on Sumas Prairie in 1931.
Brett’s yellow monoplane, a Fairchild-Cornell, became a landmark people used to navigate downtown Chilliwack for more than 20 years after it was hoisted onto the roof of Brett’s garage, on the now non-existent Hope Street.
The yellow plane on the roof was a conversation-starter and a destination, and it remained aloft until the late 1970s.
Brett’s granddaughter said she had no idea what to expect of the public art commissioned to honour the family legacy by Anthem KRC Salish Plaza Ltd.
“It’s just absolutely wonderful. The whole family is thrilled,” Battis said.
Since the pandemic hit, the Golden Eagle project by Durey that is now installed, has been a great excuse to connect with family and share memories.
Cindy Macmillan, director of asset management for Anthem Properties Group Ltd. acknowledged it was a bit unusual to install a piece of public art on an existing piece of real estate, as opposed to a new development, which is more common.
But they decided to commission the new artwork as a “creative and fun” way of promoting the shopping plaza with something that will have a lasting impact.
To select the artist, the team at Anthem worked with a fine-art broker to seek proposals from local and Indigenous artists. They “immediately fell in love” with Durey’s ‘Golden Eagle’ design proposal, and the story of Brett’s contributions to B.C. aviation and local business.
“It was the perfect fit for the shopping centre and the community,” MacMillan said of the design, “It also aligns perfectly with what Chilliwack is doing with its revitalization of downtown.”
Of course due to the pandemic, they couldn’t host an unveiling at the site, or any kind of launch for Chilliwack’s latest piece of public art.
“We had big plans, and then smaller plans, and then no plans.
“Hopefully we can do something next year to celebrate.”
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