Where did Nibiising go? The prominent sculpture has been missing for a few years.
Since 1988, the strikingly detailed, hand-carved, white pine Indigenous monument stood at the corner of Highways 11/17 and Seymour, in front of the former Dionne Quintuplets Home, now the McEwen gas bar. With changes at that location, the sculpture disappeared.
Nibiising is 16 feet tall and, at the time, the plaque read: “Nibiising – Trail of the Whispering Giants – A Tribute to the Ojibway Nation and the North American Indian – The 60th Monument and the First in Canada – Created by Peter Wolf Toth – September 1988 – Sponsored by Rotary Club of Nipissing.”
The Trail of the Whispering Giants was a longitudinal project by artist Peter Wolf Toth to honour Native Americans. He has created more than 74 sculptures across the U.S., several provinces and territories of Canada, as well as in Europe. Toth’s statues all resemble the Natives of the region in which they are located. He always donates a sculpture he creates to the town he carved it in and never charges a fee for his time, as was the case in North Bay.
For years, Toth travelled in his modified Winnebago spending summers in the north and winters in the south, stopping wherever local officials would allow or invite him to carve one of his Whispering Giants.
There are about 74 Whispering Giants, (some have been removed or damaged) with at least one in each of the 50 U.S. states, as well as in Ontario and Manitoba. Toth completed his goal of placing at least one statue in each of the 50 states, by carving one in Hawaii. And in 2008, he created his first Whispering Giant in Europe, along the Danube River in Hungary, his place of birth.
As he did in North Bay back in 1988, Toth uses a hammer and a chisel as his basic tools, but on occasion will use a mallet and an axe, or rarely a power tool.
Before starting work on any sculpture, Toth confers with local Native American tribes and local lawmakers. The sculpture that is created is a composite of all the physical characteristics, especially facial features, of the local Nation or Nations, as well as their stories and histories.
He consulted with Nipissing First Nations’ members at the time.
Toth was contacted in Edgewater, Fla., where he has a small studio in which he continues to carve small wooden statues to raise money to create more Whispering Giants, the next one slated for the Amazon.
His wood sculptures are monumental reminders of the terrible injustices suffered by American Indians. Some critics argue that the statues are rooted in physical stereotypes and caricature, raising questions about authenticity.
“The reason I’ve made these statues isn’t to make anybody feel guilty,” says Toth, 71. “I’m hoping they will be seen as my way of honouring people who have been dishonoured too long. That has always been my goal.
“At this time in my life, I have completed my tributes to the Indigenous people of North America. It is now my calling to provide memorials to the Indigenous people of the world. Presently I am engaged in creating replacement statues in various States, as well as reconditioning others.”
Nibissing will come out of storage next spring.
The Rotary Club of Nipissing’s current sculpture committee is Tony Limina and Jim Evans, (the original committee included Limina, Brian Baker and Jim Price).
The committee told The Nugget a refurbished Nibiising will end up at a “yet to be determined” location on the North Bay waterfront.
“We are currently working with a Nishnaabe artist from Nipissing First Nation to better contextualize and update the Indigenous representation of the sculpture to reflect contemporary thinking,” they say in a statement.
This will accentuate and protect, but not change, the original sculpture. New signage will explain its longstanding heritage.
Back Roads Bill explores the backroads and back waters of Northern Ontario in The Nugget and Nugget Extra. He is the founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre and teaches part time at Nipissing University and Canadore College.