J.R. RARDON PHOTO Artists Doug Giebelhaus, left, and Madeleine Neill-St. Clair stand with Giebelhaus’s full-length painting of ‘Flying Phil’ St. Luke.

UPDATE: Parksville’s “Flying Phil” statue grounded – for now

Statue project on hold as council seeks policy direction

“Flying Phil” may continue to soar, but a proposed bronze statue in his honour has been grounded — for now.

Parksville city council heard a presentation during its regular meeting Monday, Aug. 21, from a group of local artists lobbying in support of a life-sized statue commemorating Phil “Flying Phil” St. Luke. Doug Giebelhaus and Madeleine Neill-St. Clair appeared as a delegation before council to seek go-ahead and a location for the proposed statue.

“This request is a first for any council in Parksville, for erecting a statue of someone,” Mayor Marc Lefebvre told the pair. “When this came to us I looked up city policy, and there’s nothing in the city policy showing this has ever come up before.”

Coun. Kirk Oates made a motion that such a policy should be established before the city considers placing statues for anyone.

“To do this (statue) now, I’m really uncomfortable doing it based on a petition coming to council,” said Oates, who included naming of civic assets such as streets and parks in a potential bylaw to honour those who have made a significant contribution to the community. “No doubt, this individual has made a significant contribution. I’m not sure a statue is appropriate at this time.”

Giebelhaus said the idea for the statue popped up originally on the Flying Phil Fanclub Facebook fan page. He turned a photo he had of St. Luke from the Canada Day parade in Parksville into a painting, which has since been displayed at The Old Schoolhouse Art Gallery (TOSH) in Qualicum Beach and at The Gallery at Qualicum Beach Art Supply. But the statue idea never found any legs among the social media fan club.

“I waited a few months because I thought for sure someone in the fan club is going to take this on,” said Giebelhaus, an artist and musician. “A few months go by and nobody does anything, so I thought, ‘I gotta take this on and do it. It’s gotta happen.’”

Giebelhaus, Neill-St. Clair and a small group of supporters began lobbying in the community to see if the idea had wide approval, and took the concept to Lefebvre and individual council members in one-on-one conversations.

“The mayor suggested to us that a petition with about 1,500 signatures would probably help,” said Neill-St. Clair. “And we got 3,000 — in less than a month.”

As Oates noted, that was not enough by itself. His motion directed city staff to suggest criteria and submit a report on an overall policy of recognizing people who have “made significant contributions to the community — a policy that would include recognition in things such as street signs, parks, etc.

Coun. Leanne Salter introduced an amendment to place a deadline of Oct. 7 on staff’s response, but that was voted down due to a large backlog of reports already stacked up before staff.

Lefebvre noted council has already scheduled a meeting in October for the purpose of setting a priority order of approximately 30 requests currently before staff, and the request for a policy on statues and other recognition of individuals will be fighting for attention with the rest.

That was a tough response for Neill-St. Clair and Giebelhaus to hear, as their group’s fundraising efforts have been on hold pending council’s approval of the project.

They have created a web page, www.flyingphil.ca, that would serve as a donation platform should council eventually give the go-ahead for the statue. It already has a donation button, but the group has actually turned down money offers while waiting to get the go-ahead from council.

“We’ve been a bit circumspect about the fundraising, because people keep wanting to give us money, and we don’t want to take it,” Neill-St. Clair told The NEWS. “Because if we don’t get permission, how do you give all the money back?”

St. Luke is one of Parksville’s most recognizable figures, thanks largely to his almost daily walks from his French Creek home to downtown Parksville and back. Topped by one or another from his extensive collection of hats, he cheerfully waves or offers his trademark double thumbs-up to honking passersby, and regularly drops in on downtown businesses to chat with employees and customers.

The former standout Special Olympics athlete has been in the community for more than 40 years, and is known for his volunteer work with groups such as the SPCA, the Society of Organized Services (SOS) and the Parksville Volunteer Fire Department’s annual food drive.

“I feel quite strongly about the effect Phil has on people just by being himself,” said Neill-St. Clair. “Especially children, and especially children with disabilities. They don’t have to feel inadequate, because they have the example of Phil to encourage them to be cheerful, to be outgoing, and to be a contributing member of the community — which he is.”

Giebelhaus and Neill-St. Clair were seeking permission to go ahead with fundraising and commissioning the creation of a life-sized, bronze statue of St. Luke. They also proposed a location along the city’s Canada Day parade route, as St. Luke marches in the parade each year while rapping out a beat on a snare drum.

“We’re not asking for money, at this point,” said Giebelhaus. “We’re hoping to get the fundraising done by the community, so there’s no taxpayer money (involved).”

The statue’s promoters have identified and received a preliminary agreement from sculptor Gideon Hay, who grew up in Parksville and now works in Vancouver as an effects sculptor in the film industry. He would team with veteran bronze sculptor Nathan Scott, who has a bronze forge in Saanich.

The price tag for the statue would be about $50,000, Neill-St. Clair said, though the group will be trying to raise $60,000 to be prepared for any contingencies.

“There is a lot of support from the community,” said Giebelhaus. “We do have that on our side.”

And they have the approval of “Flying Phil” himself.

“He’s thrilled to bits,” said Neill-St. Clair. “When my daughter was talking to him about it, he said, ‘A statue of me? And I’m not even dead!’”

Story tips: jr.rardon@pqbnews.com