• grey jay sculpture Market Square Saint John by Phil Savage

    A sculpture of nine grey jays carved from butternut by artist Philip Savage now hangs in the atrium of Market Square in Saint John, N.B. (Photo: Hunter Wilson/BCK Creatives)

Canada's oldest incorporated city has embraced Canadian Geographic's pick for Canada's national bird in a big way. 

A wooden sculpture of nine grey jays flying, preening and peering at the crowds below has been installed in the atrium in Market Square, a large indoor public marketplace and event venue in downtown Saint John, N.B. 

The sculpture, carved from butternut wood by a young local artist, Philip Savage, is intended to commemorate Canada's sesquicentennial while also paying tribute to New Brunswick's natural heritage. 

"We were tossing around ideas for how to celebrate Canada 150 and the national bird seemed like a perfect opportunity," says Stephany Peterson, arts and culture director for the Hardman Group, which owns and operates Market Square. "Phil's style and the actual medium itself really speak to the notion of New Brunswick and allow us to acknowledge our region and the province within the context of our nation." 

Canadian Geographic recommended that the grey jay be declared Canada's national bird in November 2016 following a public voting process and a debate in which prominent Canadians and bird experts made a case for each of the final five contenders, which included the common loon, Canada goose, snowy owl, and the black-capped chickadee — the provincial bird of New Brunswick.

"We had some interesting discussions in the final months of the contest," Peterson laughs. "We weren't sure which bird we wanted to pull ahead."

For Savage, getting to carve the grey jay gave him an opportunity to get up close and personal with a familiar woodland face. 

"I do a lot of winter camping and hiking up in the north of the province, so I'd hung out with grey jays and they always seemed very friendly, coming up to get food," he says. "This winter I was more aware of them and would take the time to sit and watch them and throw some scraps to them, and that influenced some of the forms and posture of this group of carved birds." 

Coincidentally, the Market Square grey jays are not the only whiskeyjacks to be found in Saint John as Canada Day approaches; a painting of a grey jay, entitled Woodland Shadow, will be unveiled at the city's Trinity Galleries on June 30 and displayed until the end of August. 

Artist Peter Gough says he so named the work because wherever one goes in the forest, a grey jay is sure to follow behind, hoping for a snack. On one hike, he recalls, a jay landed on his boot as he sat eating lunch, then hopped up in his lap and stole a piece of his sandwich. 

"You are never alone in the woods; the Canada jay [another name for the grey jay based on its Latin moniker, perisoreus canadensis] is always there behind you, like your shadow," Gough says.