A lovely family story of how the iconic “Girl in a Wetsuit” in Stanley Park came to fruition. Written by Julie Brown (Sara's Mom), pictured above with Sofia.
Sara's grandfather, Doug McK Brown, fondly known as Papasan by his grandchildren and family, used to walk around the seawall of his beloved Stanley Park for the love of it and as a respite from a busy law practice, passing and observing an enormous rock on a very regular basis. It brought to mind the little mermaid inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's tale, that sits yearningly on a rock in the port in Copenhagen, so much so that he went as far as writing to the Mayor of Copenhagen with the idea of replicating it. In rethinking this, he decided that something unique that could be seen by ships coming into port and would represent Vancouver’s dependence on the sea, would be far more meaningful. He commissioned Elek Imredy, a noted sculptor who worked in bronze, wood, granite, and fiberglass.
He then went about doing what had to be done — approaching the city for approval so that in his words, "every Tom, Dick and Harry wouldn't put their own creations on every available rock they found,” and the monumental task of raising the money himself which included persuading Canadian Airlines to ship her to Rome at no cost to be cast in bronze, returning at a considerably higher weight than she was when she left!
The unveiling took place on June 10, 1972, a day after Dillingham sent divers down to 'slightly' reposition a rock weighing 20 tons. Douglas announced that, "since the Girl belonged henceforth to everyone who used the park, it would be inappropriate for himself or any of the politicians present to unveil her. Rather, the honour should go to the first citizen who strolled into view along the seawall.” Everyone waited for 10 minutes in the rain, while the Sea Cadet Band from HMCS Discovery tootled its full repertoire. Finally, two young girls came along arm-in-arm and were startled when he told them the honour was to be theirs. They pulled a string on shore that reached out to the canvas covering the Girl—and the unveiling was accomplished.
On the day after my father died, The Honourable Allan McEachern, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, adjourned the court to mark the passing of a great lawyer. In his remarks, Chief Justice McEachern commented that Doug once mentioned perceptively, that his legal efforts will soon be forgotten and he would rather be remembered as the person who conceived and arranged the placement of the statue ‘Girl in a Wetsuit” at Lumberman's Arch in his beloved Stanley Park. Characteristically, he refused to have his name placed on the commemorative plaque.
It is a family tradition to stop and reflect at this spot, this time with three generations to admire her. Next time you find yourself in Stanley Park pop by to say hello to our girl on the rock.