Why is there a statue of a pirate on Nanaimo’s waterfront?
“The real answer is we’re not so much celebrating the pirate, but the man,” said Mayor John Ruttan.
The bronze statue at Swy-a-lana Lagoon is of former mayor and beloved Nanaimoite Frank Ney wearing his favourite pirate suit.
Ruttan said friends of Ney fundraised privately to build the statue, which was installed in 1994, about two years after his death.
“Frank’s passion for Nanaimo was best remembered by his pirate suit,” he said. “He was Nanaimo’s pirate and people just accepted that.”
The outfit started off as a fun way to sell Protection Island – his company, Nanaimo Realty, purchased the island and sold off lots in the early 1960s.
“The wilder you could come up with, the better the public liked it,” said Ruttan. “There was a lot of promotions of that calibre at that time. Maybe they lacked sophistication, but they were a fun time.”
The pirate theme was then adopted at the bathtub races, which started in 1967 as a zany way for the town to celebrate Canada’s 100th birthday and in which Ney also played a central role.
Ruttan said Ney was often seen in his full pirate regalia, walking to city hall or his Nanaimo Realty offices or at community events.
Ney was a “good guy” with a genuine desire to help people, he added, and he often took young people under his wing and helped them out.