Ode to ole Olaus: Rossland soon to have an iconic structure all its own

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
November 11th, 2010

If Rossland could pick one iconic person to represent the town who that would it be? If you could pick one scene to become the iconic image of Rossland on postcards, marketing material and people’s impressions going forward into the future what would it be? All great cities have one. San Francisco’s got the Golden Gate Bridge, New York’s lady of liberty takes the crown, literally, in that city and on the Canadian side we’ve got Toronto’s CN Tower, Quebec City’s Chateau Frontenac, Halifax’s Old Town clock and so one. Rossland is looking to soon join that list with an iconic image of our own: Olaf Jeldness. 

Spirit of Red, a club formed to preserve and celebrate the skiing culture in Rossland, is hoping to achieve that goal through their latest project. With a bit of luck and some serious fundraising, by January 2012 a bronze, stone and cement sculpture of skiing pioneer Jeldness should be standing on the corner of Washington and Columbia.
Picture it. January 2012. You’re walking down Columbia in the late afternoon. The streets are bustling with Winter Carnival goers, the smell of mulled cider and hotdogs wafts down the street on each chilling breeze. Looking west and you see people in Victorian-era regalia intermingling with tourists and locals alike as they take in the outdoor fun that is Rossland in carnival mode. In front of the Bank of Montreal building one party-goer, staunch and stoic, stands above all the others, proudly sporting a four meter-long set of skis. The proposed statue would be roughly 4.5 metres tall and cast in bronze: Olaus Jeldness in full 1890s ski gear, complete with the super long boards with which he once bombed the slopes of Red.
“It’s just one of those things that popped up,” explained Spirit of Red secretary Ray Gaudet. “It all came out of the staff reunion that happened two winters ago. The organization behind getting the reunion together morphed into the Spirit of Red and naturally out of that the idea for a statue of ole Olaus came about. I can’t remember now exactly who or if there was anyone person who first thought of it.”
Rossland wouldn’t be the first to celebrate itself as one of the birthplaces of a sport. Windsor, Nova Scotia draws in major tourism as the birthplace of hockey and proudly celebrates their claim to our nation’s game.
With talk lately of what Rossland is or is not the capital of, one thing we can factually lay claim to is the first national ski races held in Canada, the first chairlift in Western Canada and the oldest ski resort in Canada.
“He is the reason we are all here,” added Gaudet.
With the initial idea now starting to spread excitement, Bruno Derosa, who helped coordinate the bronze hockey family statue across from the Memorial Arena in Trail as well as the new soldier statue at the Trail Cenotaph, sourced out a Chinese manufacturer as the best and by far most affordable option to bring Olaus to life.
The concept at this stage is for the statue to be roughly 150% of life-size. Olaus himself will be roughly three meters tall, the skis he’ll be holding will be another meter taller than that and the whole thing will sit on a concrete and rock-faced base of roughly another half meter in height. Some form of lighting will also be incorporated lighting up the piece.
“It has to be bigger than life-size otherwise it gets dwarfed in an outdoor situation,” added Gaudet. “It needs to be tall enough that we get him out from buried in the snow banks too (laughs). Olaus would never be buried in a snow bank.”
With an expected price tag of roughly $40,000 for the project, fundraising has officially begun in the hopes of having the statue in place for a grand launch at the 2012 Rossland Winter Carnival.
That fundraising effort got a boost this week from City Council as they unanimously approved support in principle to provide a suitable downtown location for the project. The desired location is on Columbia in Front of the Bank of Montreal. Whether or not that spot can be used will depend on what’s underground on that site. A three and a half foot concrete foundation will be needed under the statue to keep it from suffering frost heaves. The leaning tower may have been a boon for Pisa but a leaning Olaus may not have the same romance about it.
With council’s support essentially guaranteeing the group a location that provides them the most critical tool in going out looking for larger grants and fundraising from various potential sponsors.
The timing of the project fits well with the expected Columbia Avenue rebuild project schedule for the summer of 2011. With the streets and sidewalks being torn up, rebuilt and replaced it was a perfect opportunity to incorporate the project into the overall scheme of the newly-redesigned downtown strip.
The group currently has roughly $2,000 in the pot to launch their campaign. To raise the remaining funds, Spirit of Red is planning a series of events between now and the statue unveiling to both celebrate the culture they got together to preserve and promote and raise a few bucks towards the project.
With the dual purpose to invoking Ullr, the Nordic god of snow and hunting adopted by skiers the world over as their deity of choice as well as fundraising, the first event will be an old school snow dance. Bringing back a tradition that was once an annual event in Rossland, particularly in the 70s and 80s the Miners’ Hall will host dancing, presentations, slideshows and videos all to the tune of local band Sunshine Drive. One notable difference from snow dances of yore (and a sign of our greening consciousness) will be a foregoing of the traditional (and toxic) burning of old skis in Ullr’s honour.
Another interesting connection being built through Olaus’s legacy has been between Rossland and Norway, the homeland of our founding father of mountain fun. The Canadian Norwegian embassy has had their interest piqued in the project and could help assist with a portion of the funding.
“It happened quite unexpectedly,” recalled Gaudet. “I went to Norway in June for the wedding of the daughter of friend of mine. He’s been living there for twenty five years, and we used to work together at Red. His wife is Norweigan, so I just mentioned it to him. He’s a really energetic guy and he took it and ran with it. He got interest from the Norwegian embassy in Canada in possible donating some money and perhaps building more bridges and connections between Rossland and Olaus’s homeland.”
For now, the fundraising drive will keep ramping up as support grows for the project. With a bit of luck and hard work, it will likely only be a matter of time before we’ve got a permanent presence on the corner of Rossland and Washington Street to join the hitchhiking skiers and snowboarders in celebrating our status as the first great ski town of the west.

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