Just two blocks from our home is a massive bronze sculpture called Seal River Crossing. It stands in a plaza between the Fairmont Hotel and the Richardson Building. I like to go and look at it at different times of day and from different angles. It depicts a herd of caribou fording the Seal River. The Seal River is one of the four major rivers in northern Manitoba. It is over 150 miles long and runs into Hudson Bay. The river which is too dangerous to use as a transportation route is traveled annually by only a small number of very skilled kayakers looking for a challenging adventure. Yet herds of caribou cross this unpredictable river regularly as they make their way across the northern tundra. Looking at the sculpture from the rear the water looks fairly deep.Crossing the river is no easy venture for the caribou. It can be fatal. I took this picture early one morning and liked the way a younger, smaller caribou was resting it’s head on the back of the larger caribou as they navigated the formidable river. The more experienced mature caribou was bearing some of the younger one’s weight as well as providing direction and stability.
There are eleven caribou in the sculpture and the three lead animals have just arrived on the far side of the river and are climbing the embankment to make their way out of the water onto dry land.Seal River Crossing was created by artist Peter Sawatsky, who grew up in the Mennonite village of Sommerfeld in southern Manitoba. According to the Loch Gallery website, Peter who was born in 1951, studied at Red River Community College and began his art career doing landscape and wildlife paintings. He gained international recognition as a bird carver before deciding to set up a foundry and begin working in bronze. Richardson & Sons Ltd. commissioned this work in 2007 to celebrate their 150th year of business in Manitoba.Peter Sawatsky has done a masterful job of depicting the grace and beauty of the caribou’s antlers. Interestingly both male and female caribou have antlers. Caribou biologist Doug Urquart writes that males shed their antlers each November, while females carry their antlers all winter, shedding them only after having given birth in spring. Caribou antlers can weigh up to 20 pounds and have a span of up to 112 centimeters. One morning as I was walking by the sculpture I noticed a little boy had crawled up onto it.I had never thought of Crossing Seal River as an interactive piece of art before, but this small fellow was clearly in his element “riding the reindeer” as his Mom watched and took pictures of him.The Seal River is very remote and isolated. Accessing it is expensive and must be done first by plane and then by a long hiking journey. Consequently very few people have ever had the opportunity to see the caribou crossing Seal River. Artist Peter Sawatsky is one of the fortunate few to have witnessed the sight. Thanks to his remarkable talent and dedication those of us who live in Winnipeg can view the heart-stopping grandeur of the caribou crossing Seal River as often as we like.