By Tristan Allan
Chilliwack, British Columbia, has a surprisingly rich aviation history. Many long-term residents have fond memories of a yellow Fairchild-Cornell airplane that sat on the roof of Brett’s garage for 26 years from 1951 to 1977.
As part of the on-going rebirth of Chilliwack’s downtown, Anthem Properties commissioned artist Lucien Durey to create the ‘Golden Eagle’—an artwork made from painted aluminium and neon that pays homage to this iconic piece of history.
The airplane on the roof
William Earl Brett (1896–1988) was an adventurous, artistic, and entrepreneurial soul. As owner of several local car dealerships and Brett’s garage on Hope Street, president of the BC Aviation Council, and a founding member of the Chilliwack Flying Club, he was a prominent member of the community.
He developed a passion for flying, and in 1927, acquired his first airplane. He flew it for 450 hours before obtaining a flying licence—something he was forced to do once the authorities impounded the plane until he passed his exam.
Earl increasingly used his airplanes for travel around Southwest British Columbia, preferring flying to driving when managing his commercial interests. In April 1944, he crashed a blue Fairchild-Cornell into Powell River with the sunken plane becoming a write off. He would acquire a second airplane from the same manufacturer, this time a golden yellow one.
In 1951, with the development of Brett’s garage in Chilliwack’s downtown, Earl placed the golden yellow airplane on the roof to forever remind him of the joy of flying around British Columbia. Over time, the ‘airplane on the roof’ fascinated adults and children alike, and despite being gone for 43 years, it is still fondly remembered.
Bringing the Golden Eagle back to life
Artist, Lucien Durey created the Golden Eagle to follow the outline of Brett’s Fairchild-Cornell and be illuminated with classic neon. The site was chosen to be the roof of a B.C. liquor store at Salish Plaza. This location is approximately 35 metres northwest of where the original plane once stood. The intent was for the art to be seen for miles, creating a beacon of light that draws the eye whenever someone is passing through the area.
TDH Experiential Fabricators in Surrey, B.C., was engaged to create the artwork. With careful design, Lucien’s vision was turned into a 6-m (20-ft) wide, 13-m (7-ft) high plane-shaped aluminium wrapped cabinet. The plane itself would be painted onto the cabinet for daytime visibility, and then outlined with neon to shine brightly at night.
A successful installation is all about picky details
The design process needs to consider all aspects of the project from start to installation. Small details cannot be missed—from the intricacies of mounting neon to the lifting points for installation, it all has to work together.
It all started with a site review. The building itself was a flat-top with wood and metal rafters. After careful examination of the building’s structure, three sets of sleepers were designed. These were to run perpendicular to the rafters and bolted securely in placed. From there, an A-frame could be built to mount the plane structure. All these details were planned out in CAD and reviewed by an engineer.