Skip to content

McCanns plan public art to honour parents

With the sound of cars on Highway 16 on the one side, and the occasional rumble of a freight train on the other, a St. Albert family took steps last week to bring closure to one of the most difficult things any of them has ever been through.
Bret McCann watches as son-in-law Casey Walshe dismantles a sign offering a reward for McCann’s missing parents Wednesday near Wildwood
Bret McCann watches as son-in-law Casey Walshe dismantles a sign offering a reward for McCann’s missing parents Wednesday near Wildwood

With the sound of cars on Highway 16 on the one side, and the occasional rumble of a freight train on the other, a St. Albert family took steps last week to bring closure to one of the most difficult things any of them has ever been through.

But from their pain they hope to leave a gift for the residents of St. Albert in the form of a piece of public art in Celebration Garden across the river from St. Albert Place.

Bret McCann, along with wife Mary-Ann, daughter Nicole Walshe and son-in-law Casey, were out in the Edson area last Wednesday to take down the two billboards advertising the $60,000 reward for information leading to Lyle and Marie McCann, who disappeared in July 2010.

They say the reward itself, and the way it came together, is itself a tribute to the kind of supportive community St. Albert is.

Following the elderly couple’s disappearance, hundreds of St. Albertans came together with donations large and small to be able to post the reward.

“We really feel very strong support from the city of St. Albert, and it’s very meaningful to us,” Bret said. “We love the support.”

Casey, who moved to Alberta from Australia with Nicole in the weeks after the McCanns disappeared, said he saw first hand what people had been saying about this community.

“People talk about how wonderful St. Albert is, but that was a really good insight into the reasons why,” he said.

For Bret, a piece of public art is a way to both repay the community for its kindness and, more importantly, serve as a permanent tribute to his parents.

“It’s tough to visualize what my parents would want, but it just seems like such a great idea,” he said.

While he said he lacks the hands-on ability to make the art a reality, he has a clear vision of what he wants to see and why: a permanent sculpture depicting two loons out on a lake as a way to honour his parents’ love of nature.

“My dad always knew every tree. He could describe every tree and bush and so on,” Bret explained. “And my mom knew all the bird songs, if you heard a song she knew which bird it was from. She would even do loons, she could make that sound as a joke.”

For anyone who has heard the relatively unsettling call of a loon, it’s clear why recreating that sound out of the blue could be a funny practical joke. But while the sculpture would reflect some of the humour in their relationship, it will also depict the tenderness.

“I want to call the piece Darling, because that was the term of endearment that our parents used for each other, always,” Bret said.

Nicole said she felt the piece of art would be a very fitting way to memorialize, considering how long they lived in the Grandin neighbourhood, and how they love to walk and to be in nature.

“I think they would be honoured,” she said. “They were very gracious, humble people, so I think they would just be over the moon.”

Mary-Ann echoed her daughter’s sentiments, and said as difficult as the process has been from start to finish, she takes comfort in knowing Lyle and Marie will get a permanent memorial in the community they loved.

“I can’t think of a better way to honour Mom and Dad than finding a lovely piece of art that stays in St. Albert,” she said.

But while taking down the signs and repurposing the reward is important for the family’s closure, Bret emphasized the reward never did provide the answers they were looking for.

“We just want people to remember that my parents’ remains have never been found, and the family would love to have that closure,” he said. “But I don’t think the reward is going to find them.”