Art or eyesore? Bridgewater's battle over a piece of the Farley Mowat

A rusting hunk of metal from the bow of the Farley Mowat has been erected as public art on a front lawn in Bridgewater. The town wants it gone, but the artist won't budge.

Brian MacNevin is fighting the town's order to remove the sculpture from his front lawn

Brian MacNevin says the sculpture on his Jubilee Road property is in the perfect location. It gets plenty of visitors during the tourist season. (Submitted by Brian MacNevin)

A rusting piece of the Farley Mowat, an abandoned ship that languished for years in Shelburne's harbour, has been given a second chance as public art on a front lawn in Bridgewater.

But the town, like its neighbour further south, just wants the derelict vessel gone. It says the bow of the ship is dangerous and unsightly and it has ordered that it be removed. 

Brian MacNevin, the artist who put it there, is fighting to keep it. 

"Now you have to understand this is well off the street, well onto our property," MacNevin told CBC's Information Morning. "I didn't put that piece out there to create a controversy in terms of, 'What's that piece of junk doing there?'"

Rather, MacNevin said the sculpture is an ode to the controversial Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which once used the vessel in its anti-sealing efforts. He said it's also a nod to author Farley Mowat, who wrote many of his books in Nova Scotia. 

The sculpture includes a big piece of the ship's bow pierced through the centre with a railroad spike. (Submitted by Brian MacNevin)
The Farley Mowat shown in Shelburne in December, 2015. The ship's former owner was eventually ordered to pay the town $144,000. (CBC)

Bridgewater's mayor doesn't see the connection.

"Those two things have to be separated," said David Mitchell. "Farley Mowat as an author has a different historical significance in Canada than Farley Mowat the boat. And if we look at the history of the Farley Mowat as a vessel, it's not good."

The piece of the ship faces derelict vessels across the LaHave River in Bridgewater, but MacNevin insists that's not the point he's trying to make. (Submitted by Brian MacNevin)

Mitchell pointed to the tens of thousands of dollars in berthing fees the ship racked up during its time in Shelburne, and elsewhere. A judge eventually ordered that former owner Tracy Dodds pay the town $144,000.

Plus, he said the boat was never in Bridgewater so he's not sure why it needs to be remembered there.

MacNevin, the founder of an arts organization called International Current Art Research & Development Institute, has hired a lawyer who will make his case at a town council meeting Tuesday night. 

He's been working on the sculpture for years, and said he spent a total of $900 on the bow, which includes the nameplate. 

MacNevin said he hasn't had a single complaint from his neighbours. In fact, he said most people who stop by to look at it seem intrigued.

Mitchell, meanwhile, has been hearing a different story. He said several people have called or shown up to town hall to register their displeasure.

Making a statement

It's hard to miss the sculpture in front of MacNevin's house on the corner of King Street and Jubilee Road. The rusting bow is pierced in the centre with a giant railroad spike.

But he insists it's not meant to be beautiful, just like a similar structure in Lunenburg — a piece of the Berlin wall that stands right beside the Lunenburg Foundry.

MacNevin and his lawyer have appealed the town's order to remove the structure. They will argue their case at town council on Tuesday evening. (Submitted by Brian MacNevin)

Neither are particularly pleasant to look at but both have a purpose — "it's the memories that it contains and what it points to," said MacNevin.

If he loses his appeal to keep the sculpture, he said he still has options, including sending it to a former Sea Shepherd member in France who's interested.

"But that would be, like, unfortunate for me," he said, "because I really think the Farley Mowat ship, it ended its life on the South Shore of Nova Scotia and Farley Mowat, the writer, wrote his books in Nova Scotia. It's part of our heritage here."

About the Author

Emma Smith

Reporter

Emma Smith is a journalist from B.C. who has covered rural issues and Indigenous communities. Before joining CBC Nova Scotia in 2017, she worked as the editor of a community newspaper. Have a story idea to send her way? Email emma.smith@cbc.ca

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.