Before I knew Port Alberni, I knew of Babe Gunn.
My late father, Peter Quinn, was a stone carver. One of the highlights for him was attending a symposium on Thetis Island every year with his friend Eldon Oja. Babe Gunn ran a workshop at the symposium and her work influenced my father.
When I heard that Babe Gunn—also known as Priscilla Comis—had passed away, the news brought up some fond memories for me. I contacted Eldon to let him know and learned some stories about my father that I hadn’t heard.
One year he and Dad attended the symposium, but Babe wasn’t there. They came to Port Alberni to visit her home gallery instead, and were given an opportunity crawl through her pile of rainforest marble mined from a site near Kennedy Lake. It was a memorable visit for the two of them.
I visited Port Alberni numerous times before I came to live here and work at the Alberni Valley News. I knew that Babe had carved ‘Our Rugged Returning Salmon’ fountain at Harbour Quay long before I moved here. I also knew she sold her work at the Net Loft in Bamfield. All information passed on by my father.
The largest carving he worked on was a soapstone bear that he started at Thetis, with direction from Babe Gunn. Unfortunately, he died before he could finish the bear.
Eldon took it home with him and brought back a finished sculpture, weighing 75 pounds, carved the way my father had envisioned.
I like to think the influence that began with Babe came full circle when Eldon finished my father’s sculpture.
Everytime I go down to Harbour Quay and see Babe’s salmon in the fountain, I am reminded of Babe’s talent and a love of rock carving that she shared with symposium participants. I smile at the memories of my Dad that come up.
I am also reminded of the glory the fountain once was, and the state it is in now. The City of Port Alberni has applied for a grant for improvements at Harbour Quay—I’m hoping that will include restoring this legacy of Babe Gunn.
— Susie Quinn is the Alberni Valley News editor