Smithers has not always been recognized as an alpine-themed town. It was known as a railroad town in its early days, and mostly as a swamp before the town was developed. The alpine theme came during the 1970s.
In 1972, Alderman Andy Stalker suggested that a theme be introduced to the town of Smithers. Stalker’s idea became a reality the same year as the town council accepted his suggestion with open arms.
The main purpose for this new theme was to give Smithers a unique and memorable appearance.
As Bavarian and other European styles were already common, the alpine theme was an obvious choice. The mountainous backdrop of the community finalized the decision.
It was not long before a unifying centrepiece for the new theme was desired. This is where the now famous Alpenhorn Man came on the scene.
The statue’s original home was a small town in B.C. called Rock Creek. There, the statue served as a centrepiece for the Edelweiss Motel.
Unfortunately in 1973, the motel was destroyed in a fire, yet the Alpine man statue, being in the centre of a pool in the front of the motel, remained untouched.
When Stalker, learned of this story, he quickly contacted the former motel owner and traced the Alpine man statue to its location in Christina Lake, B.C.
The Smithers Lions Club then got involved and purchased the Alpine man for the town of Smithers.
Stalker and his son Glen travelled to Christina Lake to bring the alpenhorn man to his new home. The task was not as easy as it sounds.
Moving a 7-foot high statue with a 10 ft. long horn, takes some creativity. Fortunately the Stalkers had no shortage of great ideas.
The whole statue was brought to Smithers in a station wagon. The man rode in the back, and the alpenhorn was placed on the roof rack due to lack of space.
Once in Smithers, some renovations were made to the statue to stop the decay that had started in some areas of its wood.
READ MORE: Smithers icon ‘Alpine Al’ needs retreat from the elements
Several places were considered for the Alpine man’s new resting place, including the airport.
The final decision for Main Street has enabled all residents and tourists to enjoy this unique attraction.
A contest was held to decide a name for the alpenhorn man. The final choice was “Alpine Al.” Even though this is his official name, many community members still call the statue “the Alpenhorn Man.”
In the Spring of 1996, the Smithers Chamber of Commerce discovered that wooden Alpine Al was showing signs of deterioration. Funds were raised and Alpine Al was sent to Kelowna to have a fiberglass shell placed over it. The alpenhorn had to be completely remade.
Fast forward to 2016, and again Al was showing signs of rot under the fiberglass, so the Chamber instigated a push for a new one.
The chamber commissioned and paid JJ’s WoodArt from Terrace to carve a new statue.
“I was very honoured to be asked to remake this statue,” said Joerg Jung (JJ).
“I chose a 1,000-year-old Red Cedar half-tree I had, to carve the statue from, it was a massive tree. I thought since it was easy to work with and had already been around for 1,000 years, it would last that many more with little maintenance of a coat or two of varnish a year.” JJ remarked.
The statue took more hours than JJ could count, and he assured the town he would always be close by to lend a hand, should any repairs be necessary.
Although Alpine Al was vandalized earlier this year, Smithers town maintenance workers were able to re-attach the horn, without much trouble, and Alpine Al once again stands complete on Main Street.
“I made sure there were breakpoints, just in case someone needed to or did remove his horn,” JJ said of the repairs.
“Thankfully, it should have been an easy fix.”
READ MORE: Vandals rip off horn from Alpenhorn Man statue in Smithers
Current Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP, Taylor Bachrach was mayor of Smithers at the time the old Alpine Al was replaced with the new and regards the statue with fond memories.
“The thing I’ve always liked most about the alpenhorn man is how attached the community is to him. That is why I supported replacing the old statue with the new version. It’s less about the meaning behind the statue and more about nostalgia and sense of place, which are both important aspects of community,” Bachrach said.
Bachrach also discovered during his time as mayor, that despite having an alpenhorn man at the head of Main Street, there were no locals who played the Alps Horns (as they are properly called).
Bachrach knew of two people who played them, and in 2013, for the Centennial of Smithers invited them to come play.
Keith Berg and Jane Houlden, who both play french horns in symphonies, agreed to come from Dunster, B.C., to play a special concert at Crater Lake, and yes they made the hike with their horns and about 50 or so people, who said the concert was “captivating.”
They also played the Alps Horns in several places along main street during the celebrations.
At the unveiling of the new statue on October 3, 2016, Bachrach thanked the many in attendance that made the iconic statue possible.
“Big thanks to the Lions Club, the Smithers District Chamber of Commerce, JJ’s WoodArt, and town works staff who all made Alpenhorn 2.0 come together. I’m glad Andy Stalker was able to be in attendance as well, as he was responsible for bringing the original Alpine Al from Rock Creek, back in 1973.
With that, the tarp over the new statue was whisked away and the Smithers icon stood with renewed life, ready to represent Smithers 24/7, 365 days of the year, bringing unity and spirit to Main Street in Smithers.