Mayor’s vote keeps Pipe Man in the river

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Pipe Man, the industrial art installation in the image of Tom Thomson which floats in the Muskoka River and was donated to the community by local business owner Jan Nyquist for his company’s 35th anniversary, was back before Council Monday night.

Neither the future of our hospitals, nor taxes, not even the state of our roads has received the attention Pipe Man has. For some, that in itself speaks to Pipe Man’s resounding success, but for others, it has become symbolic of the type of arrogance that assumed such an installation had a rightful place in such a prominent part of the river without public consultation in the first place.

Then there is Nyquist, a successful businessman, community employer and philanthropist who gifted Pipe Man to the community at a personal cost of $50,000 and with the best of intentions. He has found himself caught in the middle of the vortex of, at times, downright nasty and abusive public comments.

“I have to wonder,” said Nyquist, “and ask my critics who have been so openly rude and disrespectful towards the artist Beverly Hawksley and my staff on social media and other places, how much do they give to the community annually? Do they give to the community or do they take from it?

I am well aware that you councillors have received many complaints and that social media bullying has been relentless. Anyone who ever does anything new is going to come under criticism. This does not mean we stop inventing new things, trying new things and doing new things. The question for you today is whether you’re going to have vision and show leadership or are you going to let negativity hinder the progress of our community?Jan Nyquist, Donor

Council unanimously accepted the gift last year. When Pipe Man was installed in the river last November, it almost instantaneously resulted in calls for its removal, which were met with council eventually instructing staff to conduct a survey in order to get input from the community on an alternative location for the art. Unfortunately, very few respondents gave viable alternatives, choosing instead to express their opinion on the art itself, according to Huntsville Manager of Arts, Culture and Heritage, Teri Souter.

“There were a lot of complaints in the comments about the survey process itself because they wanted to be able to say whether they liked it, not whether or not they liked the location,” she explained. Souter also noted that there were lessons learned as a result of the survey, like granting people anonymity.

“We felt that it would give people the opportunity to be honest and we put out a limit of two returns per IP address. I think that it backfired in the way that some people may have gone over the top in their comments due to their anonymity.”

Souter said some of the more constructive criticism received included consulting with the community in advance before accepting or installing public art in a specific location as well as including a clause to remove the installation at the donor’s expense as a condition of acceptance. Other suggestions included implementing a working group to advise council on such donations. “So that’s all nice information moving forward, but it doesn’t really help the issue at hand,” she said.

Teri Souter, Manager of Arts, Culture and Heritage for the Town, holds up a double page spread in the Globe and Mail about the Pipe Man controversy.

The survey ran for 41 days between June 29 and August 8, 2017. There were 1,392 responses and 952 comments. Seven per cent of those who responded said they liked the location, 90 per cent said they disliked the location and three per cent indicated they did not care.

Councillor Bob Stone, seconded by Councillor Brian Thompson, put a motion on the floor on Monday to return the art installation to Nyquist and have it removed from the river by next summer at his expense.

Stone said he voted in favour of the art installation at the beginning but “the people yelled and screamed. I believe that we’re now saying we made a mistake, we have real information from the survey to say yes, a whole lot of people really don’t want it or at least in that location.”

Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison took issue with that comment, noting, “I don’t think you speak for all of us sir.”

Stone agreed that he was not speaking for all of council but said the mistake was not consulting with the public in the first place.

Others had a slightly different take.

I’ve always liked Pipe Man in that position and I hope that the other 16,000 people in Huntsville that didn’t fill out the survey, [that]half of them agree with me. Councillor Jason FitzGerald.  

Councillor Det Schumacher called Pipe Man a great conversation piece, which has given Huntsville national exposure. Schumacher was referring to an article published in the Globe and Mail about the controversy by Roy MacGregor. “And you know what? Two hundred years from now it’s going to be an icon and then all of this will have been forgotten… and good for you Jan Nyquist,” added Schumacher.

Councillor Dan Armour said like seven per cent of those who responded, “I like the Pipe Man where it is.”

Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano reminded councillors that it was them who had asked for a survey in the first place.

We don’t need to start doing surveys and asking for people’s opinions if we’re not going to listen to them. So all I want to say going forward is if doing a survey like that isn’t something that we’re going to take seriously, then we shouldn’t be electing to do them.Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano

Councillor Brian Thompson argued that while 1,392 respondents may not seem like a lot, “having ten per cent of our population respond to the survey, which basically this is, is really, really a significant number.”

“I wish that the people that like it had responded to the survey. I feel that it doesn’t do the process a lot of justice if we turn around and just ignore what we’ve been told,” said Councillor Nancy Alcock, who,along with councillors Det Schumacher, Jason FitzGerald and Dan Armour, in the end voted against the motion on the table to have Pipe Man removed at the donor’s expense.

Those who voted in favour of its removal were councillors Karin Terziano, Bob Stone, Brian Thompson and Jonathan Wiebe, which split council in half with four in favour and four against.

Last but not least, Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison tipped the scales by saying he could not support the motion to remove the installation. “To me, this resolution is remarkably insulting and so I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a better way to proceed than to insult Mr. Nyquist and his entire team by saying take it back.”

Aitchison said he will be meeting with Nyquist to discuss the issue. “I sat down with Mr. Nyquist and he told me about his anniversary, he wanted to do something nice for the town and I told him we don’t need another dock, why not a piece of public art, so that’s how this all began. So I will meet with Mr. Nyquist to talk about what just transpired here. We’ve got a divided council obviously and a lot of people in the community are upset about it.”

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31 Comments

  1. On the topic of the ‘Survey’. What the Town did was not a survey. Surveys are statistical tools that accurately collect and report on a population’s opinions, thoughts, feelings, actions, etc. Survey development, implementation and analysis is a science. If the Town had wanted an accurate survey done, they would have employed an agency to conduct one. What was offered instead is no more accurate or applicable than a comment section in an online op/ed column.

  2. To Mr. Nyquist I would like to say that this was a very generous offer to the town and if the location of the piece had been somewhere other than the middle of the water, you and your staff might have been receiving the accolades you deserve (not that you were looking for that).
    Mr. Mayor if more forethought had been put into this venture in the first place, perhaps there wouldn’t be the negativity that has been generated. If you had elected to remove the art, it should be done at the town’s expense not the donor. If you weren’t going to listen to the voice of the people who responded to your survey why did you bother stirring things up?

    • Louise Nickalls on

      Well said Susan!
      I guess if they are choosing not to listen to us in the form of the survey, then we can exercise our right when election time comes around!

    • Well said. I completely agree. As always the town has their own agenda and doesn’t listen to the people who live there. If 90% don’t like it then it needs to be moved.

  3. Kathy henderson on

    I am upset. I had some hope that this piece of art would be moved to a different location. So much for asking for the town’s people’s input. This sucks that our opinion of our town that we support with taxes and shopping is disregarded. Not a happy taxpayer.

  4. Valerie Corbett on

    Mr. Nyquist, While I was growing up my Dad always counselled me about my spending habits. He constantly was telling me, Valerie, “A fool and his money are soon parted’!! He wanted me to put a lot of thought into any purchases I was about to make. Perhaps this could apply in the case of the pipe man. I’m not calling you a fool, I know you felt this was a nice gift. The Town I feel is the one at fault here.

  5. Too bad the motion put to the vote was worded negatively…i.e. Remove Pipeman… Given the 4/4/ tie vote, if the motion had been to keep it, then the Mayor, by Robert’s Rules of order, would have had to vote against the motion….resulting in removal…lol

  6. Russell Nicholls on

    I watched the Town Council address the future of the Pipe-man in the river last night. It indeed was quite a performance. The Deputy Mayor admitted that they were absolutely overwhelmed at the number of negative responses they received from the survey. To me it appeared very obvious from the on-set that the outcome of that vote had already been decided. Four Councillors down one side of the chamber and four down the other. When asked to indicate their decision the four down the right of the chamber indicated that the pipe should be removed, this being the reason for the survey! When the councillors down the left side of the Chamber were called upon to make their decision known, all four said it should stay Now the mayor has to break the tie. In so doing he voted to leave it in the river.
    Now….. so much for that over-whelming number of unhappy tax-payers. That survey meant absolutely nothing to those Town Councillors.
    What it did do, was to insure that the pipe would remain there for another six to eight months! Then what? Who knows?
    Doesn’t one have to wonder just who this Council is supposed to be representing?

  7. Just like Donald Trump was elected with the least amount of votes, so pipeman stays with the least amount of votes. So much for democracy. What was the point of the survey. I’m sure Jan Nyquist as a grown man , could understand that the middle of a busy river isn’t the place for a tall dark piece of art. Mr. Mayor, you didn’t want to hurt a grown mans’ feelings, but you obviously don’t care about the 90% who voted no.

  8. If Det Schumaker thinks people will flock to see the pipeman because of the widespread attention in the National media, well let’s hear from him as to how a person from the US gets to see the complete art piece on a trip through Huntsville. You can’t see both sides of it unless you walk around, on the land/bridge connection – or rent a boat. It is very fine detail that needs perfect vision to see it at all day or night.
    Why not cut it free from its moorings, tow it to shore and mount it on a nicely designed matching base at the end of the dock next to the bridge. There, people could walk around it, take group selfies with it, and when they get home to the Okefenokee tell people “this is the famed pipeman from Huntsville Ontario”. Might even get our PM Trudeau to stand beside it!
    Let’s make a rule for our Council: When in doubt, listen to the people who put you where you are. After hearing of Scott’s conversation with Jan at the outset, I could see why he had to vote for leaving it where it was. Don’t want to hurt the guy that took your advice. Right?

  9. Keep the piece of art but take it out of the water and put it in a park where its not such an eyesore or a danger, the danger part being the important point here. Wait until an accident happens because someone couldn’t see the “pipe-man” in the dark…here come the lawsuits for all our councillors and mayor who voted to keep it in the water…you are living dangerously folks and clearly have no respect for the wishes of the public.

  10. Liz – thank you for the Public Art Policy. Council omitted to include the residents before the fact then ignored them after they ask for the survey. Let’s hope this council and future ones read the policies BEFORE embarking on something new. Council should remember they are here to serve the community. As an added aside, rudeness is not necessary from social media responders but unfortunately seems to be the norm these days.

  11. Absolutely agree with all comments. 90% want it removed. What a waste of time filling out the survey. Good luck Scott in the next election. We now know that you don’t really care about the opinions of the people who put you where you are, including me. It’s all about you & the power trip you’re on.

    • I would call on Mr Nyquist, as the generous gentleman he has tried to be, to please take the Mayor & Council ‘off the hook’.
      The feelings created by not respecting the people’s voice & our survey will fuel negativity in our town, for our Council & for yourself for a very long time. I’m sure you do not want that legacy.
      Please find a compromise.

      I & many others did not make insulting comments to or about anyone, but offered valid suggestions – which were completely ignored.

      Mr. Nyquist sir, please review all the wonderful suggestions which we took the time to profer.

      Thank you, an Arts Grad’

  12. I was told and have now seen for myself.
    Looking so forward to the 2018 election. Perhaps Mr. Nyquist will have a change of heart and for the customers who helped make Pipefusion a success, move his floating art/advertiisment to a less controversial location.

  13. If there is any positive result from this entire controversy it will be the raising up of the whole issue of public spaces and public art. I believe we as a society and a culture are experiencing a crisis of the commons–waterways and watersheds as well as airspace and light to mention only a few. Who owns them and who is responsible for them.Also, I am delighted to find out about that Public Art Policy. Thanks for alerting us to that Elizabeth. I wonder why the mayor chose to disband the arts and culture advisory group? Perhaps they would have reminded him and the council about this policy before all of this happened. For what its worth, I am intrigued by the art piece, I admire the work of Beverley Hawksley. But I am extremely unhappy about its location in our river. I think it is dangerous and intrusive.

    • Thanks, Meg, for the most rational comments of the bunch. You thanked Liz for bringing the Public Art Policy to light; and you separated the art/artist from its location. It is ironic that the Mayor disbanded the advisory group, and subsequently fulfilled their mandate for them.

      I have been sickened by the public humiliation of Ms. Hawksley, certainly one of our finest artists, and all-round creative persons.

      Furthermore, I would add that if Council had expended nearly as much time on important matters as they devoted to this issue; we would all be far better represented.

  14. Isn’t it ironic that just like the artwork in its day, of the person depicted on “Pipeman” (Tom Thomson), the donated artwork in the centre of Huntsville is scorned by many. I am sure that Tom himself must be chuckling away in his grave, wherever that might be (are we suggesting here that relocation took place?…ha ha…more irony).
    We live outside Huntsville. But we love the town of Huntsville and seem to spend most of our time there. And so we feel rather close to this issue of Pipeman. In fact, we did the survey and we attended the council meeting on Monday evening.
    What got me was the division of council on the issue. After saying that he had originally voted in favour of Pipeman, one young councillor openly admitted that “he” had made a mistake. He then had the ultimate audacity to put forward a motion requesting the donor to cover the cost of removing the artwork. His mistake … but someone else’s money? Would you want this guy as a neighbour? Would you lend him your tools? If he got hurt using them, he’d probably turn around and sue you.
    Why is council so divided on this? Does it speak to something deeper than just this donated artwork?
    Why not live with the original unanimous decision of council for the term of the current council? If it is that big a deal, then it will be an issue for the next municipal elections. But, in fairness, to move Pipeman now should be at the taxpayer’s expense. And believe me, it will cost close to the full original value of the artwork to move it in its entirety.
    Yes, I know that it does not affect us out-of-towners, but it is certainly interesting to watch this from the outside. You Huntsville nay-sayers don’t seem to realize how lucky you are to live there. Why not try a little harder to accept this gift to the town? The location is perfect, it is not a hazard unless you are boating under the influence, and it is a unique new form of art, just like that of Tom Thomson himself.

    • Interesting comment Andrew. So you don’t believe in the survey results or the ‘will of the people’? The town asked for community feedback by way of a (admittedly flawed) survey and clear feedback is what they received. For me it’s not really so much about Pipeman anymore – it’s about the opinion that is apparent from certain councillors that our (taxpayer) opinion doesn’t matter. Sure the motion presented might have been amended to consider the costs or other locations at the meeting but it wasn’t. I can’t explain that, but you took the time to fill out the survey yet you have no issue with your voice being ignored by elected officials? I wonder, have you filled out the hospital survey yet? Will you feel the same way if your opinion is ignored by those people as well?

      • Thanks for reading my comment, Tim. But I am not so sure that the feedback from the survey was quite so clear as what you suggest. The survey asked about moving the artwork and where to move it. Approximately 1 in 20 residents responded – maybe fewer when we exclude out-of-towners like me. So what did the other 19 think?
        And boiling down the data, those wanting to keep it, either where it is, or in another location, represented about 40%. I don’t think that is so clear as you imply. Additionally, it was not made clear who would pay the expense of moving it or what that expense would be. Moving it for nothing is a lot different from moving it for $50,000 of taxpayer’s money.
        Yes, I think polls and surveys can be useful if they are properly designed and statistically significant. But as you point out, this one was flawed.
        Why did I fill the survey out? Because I wanted to support keeping the artwork where it is. Would I be offended if I voted one way and the politicians decided another. Of course not…it happens all the time.
        And yes, I have filled out the survey for the hospital. Let’s hope it isn’t a floating hospital!

        • Thanks Andrew. My intent was not to defend the actual survey, but whichever way you want to “boil” down the data there was a clear message that the majority did not like it where it was.
          The fact that 1 in 20 responded is irrelevant. Everyone was invited and the people that cared enough responded. It’s the same with government elections – do we discount the results because there was only a 30% voter turnout? Do we sit and wonder who the other 70% might have voted for? Of course not. You can’t ignore the results. For further proof of where the public stands on this issue, go back to the survey Doppler Online did in the spring. Very revealing. Apparently you like Pipeman enough to comment which is your right. But to try and play with the numbers or discount because of turnout isn’t the right approach, in my opinion. There is still a pretty clear message to council from both surveys.
          Good for you for taking the (also flawed) hospital survey! Hopefully there will be a big turnout for that one!

    • Well said Mr. MacLeod.
      Being from away, I found the art work installed in the water very intriguing, original.
      A great tribute to our Tom Thomson🎌

  15. Well I’m not saying huntsville in the 50,s and 60,s was the wild west, but it makes me laugh when I think what might have happened back then to this piece of art. What with men riding horses into eatons, and things getting shot up, signs and other things. Oh and to the guy up a couple of comments, if you don’t pay taxes in town then guess what, I don’t think you should get a vote. And a lot of people in town don’t obviously have resources to use a computer or other device to do an online survey. Just my two cents.

    • Andrew MacLeod on

      Please explain to me, Ms Brown, why I should be denied a vote. Apart from taxes, I’m confident that I spend more than you in Huntsville, I do more volunteer work than you in Huntsville, and I spend far less time complaining about things. I should be denied a vote in the survey if it effects my tax bill. But that was not what was asked in the survey.

  16. Mr MacLeod personally and as far as i can see a lot of people want it gone. I myself don’t care how much you spend here, or how much volunteering you do. If you pay taxes here in town then you can vote whatever way you want, but if you have a cottage in Dwight or wherever then no i don’t think you should get a vote. Not that the votes were listened to anyway. And i also pay taxes here and ill complain all i want, and vote cause i live in town. And that’s the last response ill give on this, perhaps the next story will deserve some complaints.

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