'That's a life-size bison': Calgary history up for auction

Heritage Calgary is putting several historic artifacts up for auction with all bids starting at a dollar and by far the largest items are eight concrete cast bison heads. 

Josh Traptow is the executive director of Heritage Calgary and says while they're not the original 1916 bison heads that adorned the Centre Street Bridge, they are still pieces of art crafted by a local sculptor from a bison that lived at the Calgary Zoo.

"They absolutely still have historic value," said Traptow. "The intricacy and the detail on these bison heads is amazing and they sat on the bridge from 1983 to 2000."

Traptow says the bridge has undergone a few restorations in its 105 years. The bison up for auction were replaced in 2000 and are modelled after the original 1916 version, crafted by a Scottish mason.

"The current ones don't have as long of a beard and their horns are not as protruding as these bison heads are," said Traptow.

Auctioneer and appraiser Sheldon Smithens is checking out the concrete sculptures and marking them with lot numbers. LEVIS Online Auctions is hosting the sale.

"When you come right down and sit beside one, well that's a life-size bison," said Smithens. "If you've ever been near one, this is life-size, they are formidable beasts and they're iconic, they have such a good look."

Smithens isn't sure who might bid on one of the bison heads but says the auction process makes them available for everyone.

"I'm a big fan of auctions," said Smithens. "It's open to everybody so if a large corporation or institution is interested, fantastic, if an individual figures that he needs one of these with his collector car, hey have at her, it's available for you."

Buyers are responsible for moving their purchase, which could be a challenge because each sculpture weighs upwards of a ton. Smithens says they then have to figure out how to display it.

"You don't want it sitting on the ground," said Smithens. "One of these you want up eight feet in the air and that's going to take a little figuring."

The sale also includes other smaller decorative elements of the bridge that were located on the east and west side of the lion pedestals. Roses referred to England, shamrocks for Ireland, thistles for Scotland and maple leaves for Canada.

Various items from the old, 85-room, Queens Hotel are also up for auction. It was demolished to make way for the city's municipal building.

Money from the sale is going towards heritage plaques for newly designated buildings in Calgary. Right now the city has 110 that are designated and will be adding upwards of 230 more throughout the next decade.

"This is more of an educational publicity campaign just for Calgarians to know that heritage exists in our city," said Traptow. "Bringing these items back into the public whether people are going to buy them and display them publicly or whatever it might be."

Bids can be made online, with the auction set to close on April 18. Learn more about the auction on the LEVIS Online Auctions website.