“I felt like I was getting a peek inside Santa’s Workshop!”
That’s how Stephanie Perilli, Director of Fund Development for the Valley Zoo Development Society, described her recent glimpse inside a local woodworking shop. But this is not just any woodworking shop – it’s the shop tasked with lovingly and painstakingly creating the likenesses of 30 endangered animals that call Edmonton’s Valley Zoo home.
The zoo is rebuilding its original 1959 carousel. It’s part of the massive transformation the zoo is undergoing – a multi-year, multi-phase project called Nature’s Wild Backyard. And while their extensive project is impressive in its own right, the effort being put into the carousel is truly remarkable.
If you’ve been to the zoo in the past few decades you’re likely familiar with the carousel – classic metal horses and benches. Each fall, the carousel is methodically disassembled and stored for winter. It’s put back together piece by piece when weather allows, usually sometime in May.
Now a massive effort is underway to create a new version of the carousel that will truly be an iconic centrepiece. It’s a coming together of community that starts, of all places, at another City of Edmonton facility – Fort Edmonton Park. It’s there that volunteer woodcarvers are giving their time to carve, sand and paint 30 animals that will become the seats of the new carousel. They are exact replicas of endangered creatures that call the zoo home. Collaborating on the project are NAIT students from woodworking, welding and electrical engineering programs. Their efforts are crucial in bringing each animal to life. Perilli estimates each carving takes a staggering 900 volunteer hours to build.
It’s clear the community is already backing the project. The new carousel is a few years away from installation, and already 12 of the 30 endangered animal seats have been sponsored. Perilli tells me so far, individuals and families have bought into the project, using the seats as memorial tributes to loved ones, or special gifts to mark milestones. 18 seats, as well as shields that will decorate the centre of the carousel, and chariots, are still open for sponsorship. Businesses that get on board could also have the opportunity to showcase the incredible pieces in their place of work for a time before they are installed in the new carousel.
For now, the only place to see the lifelike creations is at the Winspear Centre. In another example of community collaboration, they are showcasing 9 of the carvings in their lobby. As for when the new carousel will be up and running, Perilli estimates it will be in 2021 or 2022. In the meantime, construction will continue to transform the zoo into Nature’s Wild Backyard. Stage one could open by the end of this year, featuring a new home for the zoo’s red pandas, and a year round working farm to replace the seasonal urban farm petting zoo.
There are a variety of ways to contribute to the zoo’s development projects or animal exhibits. Contact the Valley Zoo Development Society for donation options, or visit the on-site Zootique for merchandise that benefits the zoo (like the Hillberg & Berk “Snow Leopard” Sparkle Ball earrings or necklace – perfect for Mother’s Day, hint, hint!)
Valley Zoo Development Society: