If you’ve ever walked along the waterfront in Sidney you’ll likely know the “Old Man by the Sea,” a sculpture of a man tying fishing line to his lure.
He sits on a stone bench by the fishing pier, ankles crossed, with his back to the water. Flower often sprout from his bronze clutch. Sculptor Nathan Scott used his father, Jim Scott, as a model. He says he looked up at the breakfast table one day and felt inspired.
“He was sitting there right in front of me,” Scott said. “As a sculptor, I always use photographs so I just sat him down at the bench and took a bunch of photos.”
After only six months of sculpting experience, Scott unveiled the Old Man by the Sea in 1999, his first public commission.
“It was a wonderful day. I was driving there with my wife to unveil it and I was so nervous. I could barely breathe,” he recalled. “She says, ‘it’s not like there’s going to be a band there or anything.’ We opened the door and all that you hear is a band. It was crazy.”
Within a week, Scott said someone had placed flowers in the sculpture’s hands.
For 15 years, the tradition has continued — and nobody seems to know who the floral decorator is. Scott said an elderly lady started the tradition, and that someone else “picked up the torch” when she passed away.
Regular customers at Brown’s the Florist are common, but store manager Kathy Blaine said none of them have identified themselves as the sculpture’s flower donor.
Blaine, who has worked at the shop for more than 30 years, suspects that the flowers are left in memory of the dead whose ashes are strewn into the Salish Sea. With nowhere else to leave flowers, Blaine said the fisherman’s hands are the logical choice for friends and family members.
If the bronze man could look up, he would see rows of low brick walls. They line a section of the waterfront like stone hedges. Each brick is engraved, some with the names of deceased community members.
Roselyn and Denis McDermid manage the Sidney Waterfront Inn and Spa, overlooking the waterfront where the Old Man sits. In every season, the McDermids see flowers in the Old Man’s hands. They assume that the bouquets are left in memory of those whose names are carved into the bricks.
Reg Teeney, a long-time Sidney resident, helped to create the sculpture walk and brick walls. Teeney said that he sees people picking flowers from a garden close to the fishing dock, before placing them in the sculpture’s hands. He added both children and adults contribute to the Old Man’s bouquets.
Since unveiling his sculpture, Scott said he has received several emails from Sidney locals. One, in particular, stands out. Following a heart attack, one resident chose the sculpture as a marker.
“They made sure they could walk there every day, back and forth, back and forth,” Scott said, explaining that these daily walks were steps towards recovery.
Sometimes, Scott also said he sees people touching the sculpture as they walk past.
“They go past and just tap him and keep walking,” he said. “It’s great that a sculpture can do that for people. So it’s a part of their lives, it’s a part of their daily thing — they just touch the old man by the sea and just keep going.”
If you or someone you know places flowers in the Old Man’s hands, please contact the Peninsula News Review team. Lets solve the mystery!
— Zoe Todd/News Contributor