Art Waldie wasn’t a sentimental person.
In 1995 when city council was considering replacing the three iconic “Welcome to Nelson” signs, Waldie didn’t mind a possible change despite having been the main person credited with their construction in 1974.
The signs were eventually replaced in 2001, albeit with replicas — Waldie’s work was just too memorable to let fade into the past.
“Pride isn’t really something you’d pin on Art. He wasn’t that way,” says Waldie’s son, Randy.
“I think he was a little pleasantly surprised and touched that people wanted to save the signs when there was talk of getting rid of them. But I think if people had replaced it with something else he wouldn’t have been attached or held onto it at all. He just wasn’t that way.”
But the signs were also just one project Robert Arthur (Art) Waldie undertook over decades of caving until he passed away in Nelson on Dec. 22 at the age of 94.
Waldie, who was born in Trail, started whittling at just five years old. In his adult years, Waldie did wildlife pieces, heraldry for a Scottish store in Vancouver and even a coat of arms for the Archbishop of Canterbury during a 1975 visit to Nelson.
Randy Waldie doesn’t recall much about the summer his father spent working on the signs at a warehouse near the airport. But he does remember the effort it took.
“It was a lot of grunt work to actually do those signs.”
The signs actually cost the city nothing to construct. The wood and supplies were donated, and Art Waldie volunteered his own time on weekends to carve two of the signs. The third he also worked on, but was finished by Bill Murray.
Once the project was finished, Waldie went on to launch a side business making signs for companies around B.C. and Alberta.
“I learned to carve before I was even in school, before I could write I could carve,” Waldie told the Nelson Daily News in 2001. “But those signs were an introduction to a whole new aspect of the work.”
Wood was a big part of Waldie’s life. His career was in forestry, and included federal and provincial jobs. He was later in charge of silviculture for the Nelson Forest District when he retired in 1982.
But Waldie’s carving was mostly done for fun. As a member of the West Mosby Volunteers, Waldie helped the group build props for events.
“They would periodically do some kind of a stunt,” says Randy. “They had a cannon that fired toilet paper rolls. They built a catapult and they also built a Viking ship that they set on fire on Kootenay Lake.”
Waldie was forced to stop carving in his late 70s when he developed carpal tunnel. By then he’d already amassed a collection of carvings Randy remembers decorating the family home, which included his first wife Virginia, his second wife Nancy and his children Garry, Wendy and Tim.
“He was very quick to smile, he was very quick to see the best in people,” says Randy. “He was always very encouraging to people for anything they wanted to do with their lives.”