Chainsaw carver Peter Ryan, who passed away on Jan. 8, has left an enduring legacy of historical statues in Langley City, said several current and former councillors.
Ryan, a resident of Hope, created the statue of two men portaging a canoe which stands in front of Langley City hall at the corner of 204th and Douglas Street.
Bearing a date of 2000, it was Ryan’s first Langley City commission, arranged by then-councillor Evan Williams.
Williams had been thinking there should be a statue with a historical theme for the newly built city hall.
“I knew about Pete through the logging industry,” Williams related, “this guy who was carving up cedar with chainsaws.”
Since there was no budget for it, Williams lined up a business sponsor to cover the cost of commissioning Ryan and found a company willing to install the statue for free.
“Basically, I called in my markers,” Williams chuckled.
“They coughed up the money.”
Ryan went on to make several other Langley City statues, almost all of them funded by business sponsors.
Former Langley City mayor Ted Shaffer, a councillor at the time, recalled Ryan as “a real nice individual that had this unique way of seeing the beauty in wood.”
“We, as a council, thought it would be nice to have some artwork spread around the city that would be unique to the city,” Shaffer recalled.
Coun. Gayle Martin, who was also a member of council when Ryan was creating the Langley City statues, called them an “enduring” legacy.
“We‘re grateful that we were able to get something like that,” Martin said.
Ryan also carved “The Traders,” who stand facing each other on Innes Corners plaza near the corner of Fraser Highway and Glover Road, and a classic car and driver located outside a car wash and oil change service on Fraser Highway
As well, he created a representation of a Langley farmer at Glover Road and Duncan Way, which stands where the City originally began, a cluster of homesteads on the famous Smugglers Trail which ran from Fort Langley to what was then known as Langley Prairie (now Langley City).
Ryan is also responsible for an image of Langley City’s first elected mayor Ernie Sendall, located in the park of same name, Sendall Gardens at 201A Street and 50th Avenue, which featured the mayor’s trademark heavy-framed glasses.
Williams said the rot-proof red cedar statues will “last forever” but could use some sprucing up.
“They need maintenance, badly,” Williams commented.
He would like to see the weathered statues, some of which appear to have been overpainted with dark protective materials, restored to their former natural colours.
Ryan’s long-time friend Dennis Bucher said of the world-famous chainsaw carver,”once you met him, you’d never forget him,” Bucher told Black Press Media.
“He didn’t rush anything,” Bucher said. “If you wanted to order something from him, it’ll be ready when it’s ready. He didn’t have just one carving on the go; he’d have one over here he just started, and one over there he’s trying to finish.”
In addition to being a visual artist, Ryan was a talented musician, working to the tune of blues bands and jamming with local musicians on the guitar, blues harp, banjo or harmonica.
“He liked the blues,” Bucher recalled. “When I went over to visit him, he would drag me off to his music room and we would sit down and he’d show me his new chords and what he’s learned.
Ryan was featured on various television shows devoted to carving, including Carver Kings and Saw Dogs, acting as a mentor to younger carvers such as fellow ‘Saw Dogs’ and ‘Carver Kings’ star Ryan Cook.
“He taught me how to carve an eagle, he taught me how to carve cats,” Cook said. “He taught me how to carve with the heart. He was an inspiration to me and so many other carvers.
Bucher recalled one night toward the end of 2020 when he and Ryan sat around his table and the conversation turned to aging and health.
“He said to me ‘I believe in reincarnation.’ That’s just his way of believing, right? I kind of think that,too,” Bucher said. “I mean, you don’t just drop dead, get buried and that’s the end of your spirit. He wasn’t too worried about passing away. That’s just the way Pete was.”
Bucher said Ryan might have chosen to come back as an eagle, if given a choice.
“I said [to his wife], ‘Lynn, if an eagle starts hanging around the house, you know,” he added.