Stolen dinos, giant spiders and burnt jackets: A look at memorable public art fiascos

Is Ottawa really cornering the market on the country's zaniest public art?

By Liam Fox in Ottawa

A recent dino-napping in Ottawa’s Chinatown was just the latest in a string of incidents that had people in Canada’s capital astir about public art. 

Three people yanked a cartoonish purple dinosaur statue, part of a four-month-old art installation, off the sidewalk in late June.

They returned the hostage this past week after police got involved, but other pieces of the Chinatown BIA’s “selfie station” project have also been subject to neighbourhood torment — like a yellow dino that disappeared earlier this year.

Pandas have gone missing, too, and Logger Vick, a character from the popular Chinese cartoon Boonie Bears, has been beheaded. 

The dinosaur crime saga came as Ottawans were squawking about a new National Capital Commission art installation made of torn-up tires. 

The piece, called When Rubber Meets Road, portrays a large crow that symbolizes roadkill.

But is Ottawa really cornering the market on the country’s zaniest public art — or the most unusual reactions to it? 

Here’s a look at some of the most memorable times Canadian public art caused a fuss in recent years. 

A spider on the wall in Vancouver

A giant metallic spider appeared under an East Vancouver overpass in March. 

The city was quick to label the artwork depicting a spider as “unsanctioned” and looked to remove it from under the high-traffic bridge, saying the spider terrified commuters.  

The arachnid’s creator, artist Junko Playtime, went on a social-media campaign to “help save spidey!”

By then, the artwork had gathered lots of attention and public support. 

In April, Vancouver Coun. Peter Meiszner, who was interviewed by the BBC about the spider controversy, announced the city would leave the artwork called “Phobia” in place temporarily. 

A silver trap in Edmonton

A 26-year-old man got trapped in Edmonton’s Talus Dome after climbing the display and falling through an opening in April. 

Wakeem Courtoreille was stuck inside the public art installation made up of over 1,000 metal balls for around an hour and a half until firefighters rescued him. 

He told media that he “just wanted to go on an adventure.” 

After he attempted to climb out of the sculpture three times, firefighters were forced to use the “Jaws of Life” — a rescue tool typically used in extracting people in car crashes.

Courtoreille was later arrested and charged with mischief over $5,000. 

A real-estate homage in Toronto 

It’s hard to miss the 25-foot-tall statue of a of a creepy white-collar man grasping a skyscraping condominium tower. 

The art piece was installed in 2019 outside — you guessed it — a Toronto condo building on St. Clair West Avenue. 

It sparked plenty of conversation among Torontonians searching for deeper meaning. Was it a visual representation of the zoning variance under Ontario’s Planning Act that is offered to developers in exchange for community benefits such as public art? 

Or was it a metaphor for “a certain class’s dominance over the society that is supposed to be diverse and multicultural,” as one Twitter user posited not long after its installation?

For some, it was just plain ugly.

A playful wave in Halifax 

Halifax’s infamous “Wave” has long been treated like more of a jungle-gym than a public art display.

A sign in front of the sculpture reading “please do not climb on the wave” is often disregarded, with kids climbing the waterfront sculpture and sliding back down its smooth surface. 

A 2013 petition created by resident Ian Palmer, who came to be known as “Wave Dad,” urged the municipal government to add safety measures to the two-metre-tall structure.

The plea went viral and sparked strong reaction, with many criticizing #wavedad on Twitter for wanting the alterations.

Despite the controversy, the wave remains unaltered — and is still used as a slide.

A hot mess in Calgary 

A woman’s coat was burned by Calgary’s “Wishing Well” art display in 2013 while she stood adjacent to the reflective structure.

The $600,000 stainless steel sculpture, similar to Chicago’s infamous “The Bean,” set Nimrodel Donahue’s garment ablaze, the Calgary Herald reported in 2014.

The piece was stored in a warehouse and covered in heat-sealed plastic until last year, for what were described as safety reasons. 

The heat-seeking structure was then reinstalled on a shadier Calgary corner.

City officials asserted that it wouldn’t burn onlookers this time around due to a non-reflective coating added to its interior.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2023.

Banner image via The Canadian Press

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