Creator of big red chair, monument to famous Brokenhead Wavers, dead at age 60

John Bear — who built a giant red chair on the side of Manitoba's Highway 59 as a roadside attraction and a memorial to two men who became locally famous for a simple gesture — has died.

John Bear built the oversized chair at the side of Highway 59 to commemorate brothers Nelson and James Starr

John Bear working on the memorial chair. (Submitted by Maria Mancusi)

The famous wavers of Brokenhead ​​​​​are still remembered by many motorists, in part because of the giant red memorial chair built in their honour on the side of a busy Manitoba highway. 

Now, the creator of the roadside attraction has died.

John Bear, who died on Jan. 7 at age 60, built the oversized lawn chair to commemorate brothers Nelson and James Starr, who became famous for a simple gesture.

They were well-known by many Manitoba travellers as the "wavers" — sitting near Brokenhead Ojibway Nation on summer days in their own chairs by the side of Highway 59, which takes many cottage-goers and sunbathers from Winnipeg to Grand Beach.

The oversized lawn chair was created by John Bear to honour brothers Nelson and James Starr, who became famous as the 'Brokenhead Wavers.' (CBC)

The brothers greeted travellers with a smile and a wave for more than 20 years — a simple act that moved John Bear to create the big red chair in 2012.

"It's not all about me. It's about the Wavers of Brokenhead," Bear said in a 2012 interview with CBC.

"These guys put Brokenhead on the map."

New roadside attraction in Manitoba honours the Wavers of Brokenhead, a pair of brothers who waved for years at people driving by on Highway 59. 1:43

It's still a common sight for drivers on Highway 59 to see children and adults alike sitting in the big red chair, smiling and waving.

But Bear's family says the red chair will not be the only way people remember him. He was also known by community members for bringing people together, says his niece, Maria Mancusi.

"He just had so many inspirations for this community," she said, including a winter carnival he set up in his yard in 1994 with an ice rink, hot chocolate, food, and a slide down to the river. 

As a handyman, he was also known for building award-winning floats for the Brokenhead Treaty Days parade with his nieces and nephews — a tradition his family plans to continue in his honour.

John Bear, who created the giant red chair roadside attraction on Manitoba's Highway 59 as a memorial to the famous 'Brokenhead Wavers,' died on Jan. 7, 2020, at age 60. (Submitted by Maria Mancusi)

Music was also a big part of Bear's life, and he held a coffeehouse jamboree in town until he was diagnosed with cancer. The jamboree is a legacy that his youngest brother, Dean Bear, hopes to carry forward. 

"I just want him to be remembered by everyone in Brokenhead," said Mancusi. "He is such an inspiration, mostly to the children around here."