Bob and Doug McKenzie return to Edmonton as statues during COVID-19


“Bob and Doug spoke to Canadian culture so profoundly, so eloquently in such a relatable way.”

Article content

Of all characters, it figures these two hoseheads would have trouble with two-metre social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But after years in the making, life-sized bronze statues of SCTV’s inseparable Bob and Doug McKenzie appeared on 103 Street and 103 Avenue Tuesday night under a gentle snow, wearing tuques and jeans and clutching open stubbies — what we Canucks used to call short beer bottles back in the day, eh.

The lively and beautiful colour-patina statue is a collaborative effort between accomplished Edmonton sculptor Ritchie Velthuis, the non-profit SCTV Monument Committee, Calgary’s Bronzart Casting and actors Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, who had suggestions during the entire process.

“The only thing that was stipulated is they wanted to be involved and have a voice,” says Velthuis, who had to otherwise keep the project secret from the public for years before it finally found a place Tuesday night a block south of John Weaver’s transplanted Gretzky statue, another monument to Edmonton’s past.


Story continues below

Article content

Thomas himself notes, “Bob and Doug were born in Edmonton over 40 years ago. Edmonton is the perfect place for these statues because now we’re frozen stiff all year round, eh!”

He notes, “I am in Los Angeles and Rick is in New York City — probably the two worst places anybody could be right now.”

The loveably idiotic brothers McKenzie were the creation of the two actors, featured in recurring, often improvised Great White North skits on SCTV. Full name Second City Television, the show ran on and off from 1976 to 1984 with an evolving cast that launched the careers of so many iconic comedians, including Harold Ramis, John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Andrea Martin, Martin Short and Schitt’s Creek’s Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy.

“Check out this hosehead, eh?” Sculptor Ritchie Velthuis’ caricatures of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas are inspired.
“Check out this hosehead, eh?” Sculptor Ritchie Velthuis’ caricatures of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas are inspired. Photo by Fish Griwkowsky /Postmedia

First shot in Toronto, in 1980 the already-cancelled SCTV relaunched in cheaper Edmonton with the help of local broadcaster Charles Allard, owner of Allarcom and CITV, picking up international attention to match Gretzky’s winning Oilers and West Edmonton Mall while filmed here. The show would move back to Toronto and onto NBC and earn multiple Emmys.

But Bob and Doug became an international sensation in their own right, including starring in feature-length comedy Strange Brew — featuring the recently deceased legend Max Von Sydow — a hit album guest-starring Rush’s Geddy Lee, even having their own comic strip, which ran in the Edmonton Sun.

Sign up now for our COVID-19 newsletters from the Edmonton Journal and the Edmonton Sun


Story continues below

Article content

“Rick and I were both surprised and honoured at these statues of the McKenzie brothers,” says Thomas. “Despite the time that has passed, we both hold dear the memories of working at the ITV Studios on Allard Way Northwest with the rest of the cast and the Edmonton folks who worked behind the scenes on the SCTV show with us.

“We all became lifelong friends, and share a lot of memories. So, in that way, these statues really memorialize that experience and the folks from Edmonton and the other cast members of SCTV who worked on the show.”

Began work in 2017

Velthuis, who calls the monument his career highlight, was hired by the committee and began work in earnest in 2017, first carving Styrofoam on a metal armature from smaller models of a number of SCTV characters, including Martin’s Edith Prickley and Candy’s Johnny LaRue. “Because of my snow-sculpting background I chose to carve them in a fairly detailed fashion, knowing I’d be adjusting a lot along the way.”

The next stage was sculpting a mix of powdered foundry clay, paraffin wax and petroleum jelly.

“It hardens, but you can heat it up and mould it that way, or carve into it.

“Because of their costuming, because their stance they’re really identifiable really quickly. I compared it to the first renditions of The Simpsons. You can see them, but they’re not there yet. When I ask for a critique I really want it.”

It’s here Moranis and Thomas first had input. “Their biggest concern when they saw the maquette was with the likeness — when you’re working on a 14-inch figure there’s only so much detail.


Story continues below

Article content

“I think people think artists are just super sensitive. I was super honoured. They were very direct with some of their observations, and I think there was some concern I would be offended,” he laughs. “I wasn’t offended at all. It helped me.

“I wanted to tell a story. I really wanted to capture in lovable conflict. There was a request that Doug look forward into ‘the camera.’ But watching this hours and hours, particularly when they’re arguing, he cranks his head, looks down. So I’m capturing a moment in time, not capturing a publicity shot.

“But,” laughs Velthuis, “I did shift his head up a bit.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Doug McKenzie, right, and his brother Bob.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Doug McKenzie, right, and his brother Bob. Photo by Fish Griwkowsky /Postmedia

Adjustments were also made to Bob’s nose, Doug’s earmuffs. “Just subtle nuances that were super important.”

After six months of intense work the figures were ready to go to the foundry. “Each figure was around 10 small pieces. It’s a fairly complex and complicated mould, just because of the seated position, hands in front of hands, that kind of thing.”

Velthuis thanks the team at Bronzart Casting Ltd., who also produced Richard Tosczak’s new life… new beginnings in Hawrelak Park. “They don’t call themselves artists, but they truly are.”

Next, a patina is sprayed on, heat-treated, “baked on,” explains Velthuis. “Every bronze has a patina. Even if it’s just patina of what we call a bronze colour — it’s still a paint, an enamel.”

Finally wax is applied. “It has to happen every two years or it will start to erode,” he says with parental concern for what he repeatedly calls “the Boys.”


Story continues below

Article content

At one point the figures had painted bodies and tuques — but with monumental bronze faces. “In bright sunlight it has a golden hue, but at nighttime, well …”

‘Kept it a secret this whole time’

The actors had concerns, and Velthuis painted the faces to match the clothes. “They’ve seen the final product and are super happy.”

Thomas jokes, “Geez, when we look at these statues it’s hard to believe we’re that old, eh!  Of course, looking in a mirror tells another story.”

Velthuis sees the statue as a moment of joy in a dark time. The actors were to be in Edmonton for an unveiling Friday, but, well, you’ve perhaps heard of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Thomas confirms, “For obvious reasons that has now been postponed.

“As soon as travel is allowed,” promises the actor, now 70, “we will return to Edmonton to see these statues in person.

“Of course, by then, the birds of Edmonton will have made their contribution to our likenesses, making us look more like we actually do in person.”

“That may not be until the summer months. What do you call the Ice District in summer, eh?”

“I’m super proud of it,” the 59-year-old artist says, his voice breaking. “I’m welling up right now.

“That’s the bittersweet, anticlimactic part. It’s such an interactive piece, people are going to want to crawl all over it. I guess they could sit two metres away from each other.

“To be totally honest, it’s like holy crap, I’ve just dedicated four, five years of my life to this, kept it a secret the whole time. And now it can’t really be shared the way I’d like it to be shared.”


Story continues below

Article content

But, says the sculptor, “I’m just super honoured to represent the Canadian icons that they truly are. When they were filming I would’ve been 19 years old. I was Bob and Doug. My older brother — there was always that tension, that arguing. It was very relatable. Take off!” he laughs.

“Bob and Doug spoke to Canadian culture so profoundly, so eloquently in such a relatable way. And there’s folklore about them working here, stories that probably aren’t even half-true. But they left a mark.

“I’m an artist creating artists, and that was just awesome.”

Ritchie Velthuis’ painted bronze Bob and Doug McKenzie, on their first-ever night looking down 103 Street downtown.
Ritchie Velthuis’ painted bronze Bob and Doug McKenzie, on their first-ever night looking down 103 Street downtown. Photo by Fish Griwkowsky /Postmedia

In the first snowy hours of the statues’ lives on our streets, no one is celebrating, there can be no crowd. But someone did anonymously leave boxes of Kraft Dinner in the hosers’ laps.

Pleading the fifth, Velthuis laughs, “Offerings to ‘the Boys,’ I guess.”

Beauty, eh.



Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.