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Cape Breton artist carves folk art from telephone pole destroyed in storm

Cape Breton artist Murray Gallant sits on a utility pole in his yard on Heelan Street, New Waterford, with a pig he hand-carved from it. Gallant, 81, who has been hand-carving folk art for more than 40 years now, said he had been anxious to do some pieces and was wondering where he could get some wood when post-tropical storm Dorian hit and left a telephone pole hanging by its wires at his front gate. Gallant has 16 pieces of his folk art preserved in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.
Cape Breton artist Murray Gallant sits on a utility pole in his yard on Heelan Street, New Waterford, with a pig he hand-carved from it. Gallant, 81, who has been hand-carving folk art for more than 40 years now, said he had been anxious to do some pieces and was wondering where he could get some wood when post-tropical storm Dorian hit and left a telephone pole hanging by its wires at his front gate. Gallant has 16 pieces of his folk art preserved in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. - Sharon Montgomery-Dupe
NEW WATERFORD, N.S. —

A Cape Breton artist anxious to hand-carve some folk art got timely help from a seasonal storm.

Murray Gallant, 81, of Heelan Street, New Waterford, had recently carved some pigs from wood and wanted to create some bigger pieces. The problem was that he didn't have the needed wood.

But that was before post-tropical storm Dorian hit Cape Breton.

“Then here comes the storm and there’s the wood right by my front gate!" he said.

Seven utility poles broke on his street, including one near his front yard. The poles were broken at the base and were left hanging by wires.

“They were broken off low, close to the ground,” he said. “If the wires broke, one would have landed across my property.”

Gallant said it was a Bell Aliant pole but a different company — a cleanup crew — came by to take out the broken poles and replace them a day later.

The idea of making a carving from one of these poles came to him while watching the crew take one of them down.

“A machine was picking up the poles and carting them away,” he said.

Gallant approached the crew over the possibility of having that particular pole.

They said: 'Wait until we get down by your place and we’ll give you that one.'”

The crew made their way down, cut the pole at his gate into two pieces and even carried the pieces onto Gallant’s property for him.

“I thought it was great,” he said. “I thanked them.”

Murray Gallant, 81, in his workshop on his property in New Waterford. Gallant, who has been hand-carving folk art for more than 40 years, said he has no plans of stopping.
Murray Gallant, 81, in his workshop on his property in New Waterford. Gallant, who has been hand-carving folk art for more than 40 years, said he has no plans of stopping.

Gallant said these are old utility poles.

“We’ve been here 38 years and they were here long before we came.”

So far, Gallant has carved a two-foot pig from this wood. He usually uses pine but found the wood from the utility pole contained a straighter grain and speculated that it was cedar. Although cedar is more difficult to carve than pine, he was up for the challenge and is now on his second piece from the utility pole.

The first wooden pig will be kept by Gallant for its historical significance — as a symbol of destruction from the storm — but he’ll most likely sell a couple of others. He said many stories from Dorian were sad ones, but this is a bit of good that came from the destruction.

Once he finishes with this pole, then it’s off to figure out where to get some more wood.

“I've been doing it 40 years and I don’t plan on stopping,” he said. “I’ll be doing it as long as I can.”

A well-known folk artist, Gallant has pieces on display all over the world, including 16 pieces in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

Katie Hatfield, communications with Bell Aliant, said most utility poles in Nova Scotia are jointly used by Bell Aliant and Nova Scotia Power but a small number are used by Bell Aliant alone. Hatfield said while they reuse damaged poles when they can do so, if that’s not possible the poles are recycled or disposed of at a government-regulated facility.

“In this case, Mr. Gallant asked if he could use a portion of the pole that landed in his yard during the storm for his artwork,” she said. “Our crew was happy to oblige by cutting it down into a usable piece for him.”

Patti Lewis, communications with Nova Scotia Power, said approximately 460 to 500 poles across the province were damaged by post-tropical Dorian, with about 70 of them in Cape Breton.

The cost to replace poles is variable, she said, and depends on time of year and damage done.

It takes anywhere from half a day to a full day to replace a utility pole, depending on the circumstances. In most cases the poles are not reused and are properly disposed of, Lewis added.

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