Labour of love

Greg Sween is proud of his creation which honours his hero Rick Hansen

Greg Sween is refurbishing his 1987 Man in Motion World Tour carving in anticipation of the 25th Anniversary medal relay.

The Rick Hansen carving, which has graced the entrance to Quesnel’s Twin Arenas for more than 20 years was a labour of love by local log building and carver Greg Sween.

When he heard one of his heroes was wheeling through Quesnel in April 1987, Sween set his considerable skills to marking the occasion.

“I figured I had to do something, Hansen is my hero,” he said.

At the time, Sween was busy replacing rotted logs in the Hudson’s Bay building at the corner of Carson and Front Streets.

In the course of the work Sween does, skidding massive logs out of the bush is part of the job. But one log was particularly difficult to extract.

However, with a somewhat unique spiral growth pattern, the logger knew it could be an interesting element in one of the jobs he was working on.

“I made spiral posts for a house, but the top end wasn’t being used,” he said.

That spiral log was in the back of Sween’s truck when he decided the perfect project to honour Hansen’s Man in Motion journey through Quesnel.

“I felt the spiral in the log fit perfectly with Rick’s attitude, no matter what, you can accomplish dreams and have fun doing it,” Sween said.

In front of the Hudson’s Bay building, on the side of Front Street, he set to work, carving a tribute to Hansen’s Man in Motion tour.

Sween had made log signs before and lots of names carved into burls but this was a much more ambitious project and done under the scrutiny of many, many onlookers.

The monolithic carving was finished in time for Hansen’s visit to Quesnel and Sween said he had a few moments with his wheelchair hero.

“He was impressed with the carving,” Sween  proudly admitted.

Weighing more than a ton, moving the carving sat in front of the Hudson’s Bay building for a while, then the post office, then MacDonald’s Restaurant.

“I’d move it around at night, I just wanted it to be seen,” Sween said.

About a year later, the city took it over and placed it at the arena.

However, in one of its previous locations, the carving had been invaded by carpenter ants and had to be repaired.

Other than a bit of touch up paint, Sween said the carving has remained the same.

When he completed the carving, he applied a coating of Sikkene’s lacquer which is very durable, a normal product for use on log homes.

With the Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Relay slated to pass through Quesnel March 22, Sween was contacted by the local organizing committee to refurbish the aging carving.

Sween once again picked up his one-ton creation and carted it back to a studio in south Quesnel where he sanded the surface and is preparing to repaint.

There’s a hole which he might plug and a few spots that are deteriorating, but he said every log has a life span and this log is nearing the end.

“At this stage in the log’s life it wants to be another tree [decomposing],” Sween said.

“However, if it stays in the shade it could last another 10 years. Regardless, this log will always be protected from anything.”

He said no matter what it will exist somewhere.

“In 25 years, there’s never been any vandalism,” he said.

“Some force protects this carving.”

When asked if this is his favourite carving, Sween admitted the carving his did in the Veteran’s Peace Park in Crossfield, Alberta is his number one favourite, but Rick’s carving is a close second.

“Rick put Canada on the map,” he said.

“And he enlightened us on what you can accomplish regardless of your disability.”

Sween said he has two cousins in wheelchairs, one, a quadriplegic, is a physics professor at San Fransciso University and other is a radio announcer in Medicine Hat, Alta.

“They open so many hearts and minds through their accomplishments,” he said.

Sween has followed his career all over the world, but like Hansen, is happy to call the Cariboo home.

“I’m so lucky to live in the Cariboo, the beauty and the people,” he said.

“I’ve been all over the world and have never been to a better place than the Cariboo.”

He’s also proud to have carved the tribute to his hero Rick Hansen and that it will again be part of Hansen’s anniversary tour through Quesnel.

“I’ve always had good health and really done nothing with it, but look at Rick, crippled as a young kid and look at what he’s accomplished,” Sween said.

“He really is a hero.”

The Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Tour arrives in Quesnel March 22.

The tour retraces the Canadian segment of Hansen’s Man in Motion World Tour. Starting in Newfoundland and traveling westward, the nine-month relay covers 12,000 kilometers and visits more than 600 communities in every province and territory.

There are more than 7,000 medal bearers (each will pass the specially-crafted anniversary medal, hand to hand across the country.)

Traveling up a cordoned-off Reid Street, medal-bearer Landon McGauley is the final participant in the Quesnel leg of the tour and is expected to arrive in Spirit Square around 5 p.m., March 22.

End of Day celebrations take place after this. Watch for details of the Quesnel festivities in the Cariboo Observer.