Calgary to unveil Ian Tyson public art tribute


Days after the Peace Bridge opens later this month, the city will unveil a public art tribute to legendary Western singer and songwriter Ian Tyson as part of improvements to the downtown LRT line.

Lyrics from a Tyson song will be inscribed on a small stone-and-glass Calgary Transit utility building, designed by local firm Sturgess Architecture, at the intersection of 7th Ave. and 9th St. S.W.

Area alderman Druh Farrell first contacted Tyson, who lives on a ranch an hour’s drive southwest of Calgary, roughly a year ago regarding the project. “She said, ‘We want to honour your poetry, and what do you think of that?'” recalls Tyson, 78. “I said, ‘Well, sounds great to me.’ She seems like a pretty hip lady.”

Farrell says that when she first proposed improvements to the LRT line a decade ago, she envisioned cowboy poetry being incorporated somewhere along the line. “We had been going back and forth on which poet, which poem. And then it dawned on us. Who’s the most iconic poet? Ian Tyson.”

She had the poet, but still needed the poem. Tyson’s career spans more than five decades, from his Ian & Sylvia days in the New York City folk scene of the ’60s through his popular cowboy records of the ’80s. Farrell and Tracey Read of the Calgary Stampede started digging through the Tyson catalogue for the right song.

They came to Land of Shining Mountains, from Tyson’s 2005 record, Songs from the Gravel Road:


In the land of the long roads
High lonesome prairies
Dreaming of the springtime
First crocus in the snow
Coffee in a go cup
He’s headed for the oil rig
Land of shining mountains
Big Alberta sky


Farrell says she and Read instantly knew the poem was the right pick. Tyson was pleased by their choice. “I thought it was appropriate,” he says. “It’s an Alberta song. It’s got all Alberta scenarios.”

Architect Jeremy Sturgess describes the small, triangular building containing the lyrics—currently hidden from public view by hoarding—as a piece of land art that will be illuminated at night.

“What was just an intersection is now something hopefully a little bit special, as it’s commemorated to somebody that we all admire,” says Sturgess.

The project didn’t go through the city’s public art jury process because it’s part of the 7th Avenue refurbishment project commissioned before current rules were in place, according to Farrell. “We wouldn’t do that process again,” she adds.

For his part, Tyson is encouraged by how Calgary has developed culturally in recent years. “Calgary is starting to become a real city,” says Tyson, who counts Calgary native Leslie Feist among his favourite artists. “This is a big music centre now. Twenty years ago, it was nothing. Just us cowboys, basically, were making music.”

Tyson, who still tours and plans to release a new album next month, will be at the March 28 unveiling, which will involve musicians playing covers of his songs on C-Trains. Farrell says she’s also encouraging local radio stations to play his music in tribute.

“It’s expanded into something really fun,” she says. “Apparently, Four Strong Winds is going to be sung at the Flames game. I asked (Flames president) Ken King if he would do that, and he said ‘sure.'”

Farrell can be thankful she didn’t pick lyrics from that song to be inscribed on the structure. The notoriously irascible singer has a love-hate relationship with the folk hit he wrote in 1962, and sometimes gets annoyed when the song overshadows his more recent cowboy music.

“I wouldn’t have gone near it if it had been Four Strong Winds, because that drives me crazy,” growls Tyson. “That drives me nuts.”

Source: Open File