“Once you met him, you’d never forget him.”
That’s how Pete Ryan’s long-time friend Dennis Bucher said of the world-famous chainsaw carver, who passed away on Jan. 8. As Hope and the art community around the world mourn the loss of an icon, Ryan leaves behind an immortal legacy of art, song and love for his community.
District councillor and Chainsaw Carving Competition organizer Victor Smith met Pete Ryan while competing in logger sports. At the time, Ryan was living in Vancouver; it was at the PNE back in the mid 80s where Ryan carved a life-sized elephant.
Smith said Ryan was a mentor to younger carvers such as fellow ‘Saw Dogs’ and ‘Carver Kings’ star Ryan Cook.
“They would all go to Pete Ryan’s on the last night to party together, sit around and have a fire,” Smith said. “He made it like a brotherhood for everybody. He accepted all carvers.”
Cook penned his own heartfelt tribute to Ryan on his Facebook page.
“He taught me how to carve an eagle, he taught me how to carve cats,” Cook said. “He taught me how to carve with the heart. He was an inspiration to me and so many other carvers. My heart goes out to Lynn and the kids. I love you, big guy! Those clouds in heaven better watch out ‘cause they are gonna be looking amazing in the sky from now on.”
Ryan’s natural artistic talent grew from an early age.
“He was already an artist from the word ‘go’; some people are natural artists,” Bucher said. He recalled stories from Ryan’s late parents, telling him about Pete drawing on the walls and winning art contests as a child.
Smith said Ryan had an ability to see the carving in the wood while it was still a raw log.
“He says ‘it’s in there; I’ve just got to knock off the wood so I can show you,” Smith said.
Sandie Maximuk recalled when Ryan carved a statue in tribute to her uncle and Hope Minor Hockey staple Murray Sullivan, which now stands tall in front of the Dan Sharrers Aquatic Centre in Hope.
“He asked us for my uncle’s hockey gear so he could make sure that the carving was as close as he could get it, then he brought it over to my grandparents’ house and did an unveiling for the family,” she said. “We are forever grateful for not only the carving but for the friendship we had.”
Ryan’s easy-going attitude meant he didn’t force his talents into a time-sensitive box.
“He didn’t rush anything,” Bucher said. “If you wanted to order something from him, it’ll be ready when it’s ready. He didn’t have just one carving on the go; he’d have one over here he just started and one over there he’s trying to finish.”
In addition to being a visual artist, Ryan was a talented musician, working to the tune of blues bands and jamming with local musicians on the guitar, blues harp, banjo or harmonica.
“He liked the blues,” Bucher recalled. “When I went over to visit him, he would drag me off to his music room and we would sit down and he’d show me his new chords and what he’s learned.
“If you walked by the shop when he was working, you’d hear blues in the background. He had the stereo playing and he’d whistle along or pull out his [blues] harp and play along with it for a while.”
True to his boisterous, jolly nature, Ryan loved a good joke. Angela Lott recalls him acquiring a taxidermy raccoon from her mother to use it for study. It turned out to be less for art study purposes but instead became a fixture in Ryan’s shop, in a fearsome pose and dressed in a small karate gi.
For seven years, Bucher and Ryan organized the Festival in the Woods, a celebration of all things wood centered around Canada Day, fireworks and a car show. The duo also created a museum in the Hope Theatre dedicated to chainsaw carving back when Bucher managed the theatre.
“Pete was always coming out to the theatre and hanging out there when he wasn’t carving on Main Street,” Bucher recalled.
Bucher’s favourite memory of their friendship was Ryan’s 50th birthday. Bucher had the task of keeping Ryan occupied all day out of town while 150 of his closest friends gathered for a surprise party.
“That weekend before his party, I’d sold him a couple of tickets, and he bought them off me for $20 a ticket, thinking he was going to the Hope Search and Rescue’s final summer party,” Bucher said. “I had the Search and Rescue guys run the door and pretend to collect tickets. He turned around to look in the hall and we had a wheelchair waiting for him because he was turning 50. I threw him in the chair and his son started wheeling him around. It was a really good surprise party, for him.”
Bucher recalled one night toward the end of 2020 when he and Ryan sat around his table and the conversation turned to aging and health.
“He said to me ‘I believe in reincarnation.’ That’s just his way of believing, right? I kind of think that,too,” Bucher said. “I mean, you don’t just drop dead, get buried and that’s the end of your spirit. He wasn’t too worried about passing away. That’s just the way Pete was. He didn’t worry about nothin’ in life.”
Bucher said Ryan might have chosen to come back as an eagle, if given a choice.
“I said [to his wife], ‘Lynn, if an eagle starts hanging around the house, you know,” he added.
With his love for learning, his drive to excel in his art and thirst to follow whatever was on his heart, Pete Ryan’s life was as full as it was impactful.
“He lived a good life. He did what he wanted; he lived the live he wanted to live,” Bucher said. “He was like a big brother to me.”
Smith said an upcoming chainsaw carving competition would pay tribute to Ryan with a few of his carvings for sale, the proceeds of which would go to his family in Ryan’s memory. Bucher said there are plans in motion to possibly hire a carver to create a Pete Ryan statue, a fitting tribute to the artist in his favourite medium.
While plans for a memorial in his honour begin to crystallize, one notion remains clear –Pete Ryan’s joyful spirit and unbridled passion for his art will live on.