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Smithers icon 'Alpine Al' needs retreat from the elements

The famous Main Street alpenhorn statue will be taken down for repairs this fall.
Smithers' iconic alpenhorn man

Smithers’ Main Street will be without its famed wooden alpenhorn statue for several months starting this fall, when town staff will try to mend the ailing health of “Alpine Al.”

The figure was installed on Main Street in 1973 as a tribute to the town’s newly adopted alpine theme, which was introduced by town council the previous year.

It was last repaired in 1996, when a fibreglass coating was added to protect it from further weather damage.

However, that shell has also deteriorated, allowing moisture to expand the wood and form cracks in the fibreglass.

To rescue the mountain man, the Town of Smithers will need to bring him inside and out of the elements.

Town staff plan to remove the statue for repairs early this fall, then put it back on display in spring 2017.

In a report to town council in early March, works and operations director Roger Smith said the statue needed to dry out completely before staff could restore its fibreglass shell.

He told the March 8 council meeting the repairs would extend the figure’s lifespan about another ten years.

Since its installation in the ‘70s, the alpenhorn man has become a Smithers town icon.

Now the Town of Smithers logo, the statue was originally erected as a symbol of the alpine theme adopted by council on March 21, 1972.

According to information collected by Tourism Smithers, that resolution urged the business community to ensure its architecture reflected the town’s mountain culture.

“Whereas Smithers is well known in the Pacific Northwest for its fine winters for skiing, snowmobiling, skating, curling, jam pail curling and other winter sports, and whereas Smithers is known far and wide as the friendly Town and for its good shops and good people,” read the 1972 resolution.

“And whereas it is desirable to retain this facet of our character though our population grows, and whereas tourists to our mountains and rivers is a natural desirable and welcome industry to support our Town and its people.”

“Therefore it be resolved that we encourage this trait by adopting an alpine theme in our business district architecture to relate to our mountain and winter sport heritage.”

The Town set about finding a physical symbol of its newly adopted theme.

Then councillor Andy Stalker, who had pushed for the introduction of the alpine theme, first saw the alpenhorn man in a Vancouver newspaper.

The story about the Edelweiss Motel fire, which destroyed the business in 1971, mentioned that a wooden statue of a man blowing an alpenhorn had survived the blaze.

Stalker tracked it down in Christina Lake and, funded by the Smithers Lions Club, drove southeast to pick it up.

“We found it standing in a grove of jack pine trees,” Stalker wrote in a letter in 2013.

“We loaded it into the station wagon with the horn strapped to the carrier on the roof.”

Back in Smithers, the statue was placed in the local mall for residents to view while it dried out.

It was then painted and repaired.

According to Stalker’s letter, deciding on where to put the statue was a challenge.

“We wanted [the figure] away from any vandalism,” he said.

“Finally, with the Smithers Chamber member Nick Sikkes suggestion, it was placed on the [median] on Main Street close to Highway 16.

“It stayed there with little harm except someone thought a little grass (hashish) in the pipe would enhance its looks.”