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Photo by Mackenzie Ashcroft

“What is that giant metal thing in the middle of campus?”

By Enobong Ukpong, October 13 2022

The 18-foot high, 4.5 ton sculpture was installed by George Norris for the 1975 Centennial Program, according the University of Calgary website. Although the piece was untitled, it has become known as “The Prairie Chicken,” or just “the chicken,” a term coined by Norris himself. 

Although old students and alumni have fond memories of the Prairie Chicken, there is a new generation of students who have no idea what it is or what its significance is, as the sculpture was removed in 2018 in order to construct the McKimmie Complex. However, as the building is finished, the sculpture has been re-installed atop the hilltop reminiscent of what Norris designed. 

In a statement to the Gauntlet by Marina Fischer, collections specialist at the Nickle Galleries, the removal caused a lot of angst for students who were frantically posting on social media lamenting the “death of the chicken” and desperately trying to find out the sculpture’s fate, as other sculptures previously removed had not been reinstalled. 

“It is a hilltop gateway open to the sun. It is the pages of a book spread out for those who will be transported by its content. It is the Prairie Chicken’s feathers spread in full array or it is the ritual-dance costume of the Blackfoot Indian. Its supporting members grow out of the hill and tell of interplay of the energy between the earth and the sun. The spreading forms create a canopy under which speakers may speak and performers may perform,” said Norris about the sculpture. 

The Gauntlet also spoke with Courtney Pascoe, a recent alum with a BA Multidisciplinary degree. 

“I think one of my favourite memories was as a first year student who moved into Rundle hall, exploring campus in the evenings after O-week activities with friends, coming across the Prairie Chicken and being completely perplexed by what it was. It never occurred to us it was a book,” said Pascoe in reference to the fact that the Prairie Chicken was design to resemble a book being splayed open.

“It eventually became a landmark among our residence community for providing directions to other new students who hadn’t spent as much time on campus or maybe didn’t frequent that side of campus. It was also a great meeting spot far enough removed from Mac Hall for us that we were still in the heart of campus but with more space to spread out and study. We didn’t find out the Prairie Chicken was a book until several years later and even then we still didn’t feel fully convinced,” she added.

The Prairie Chicken has been a symbolic sculpture for many students and alumni at the U of C. While its return has startled and left many confused, first-year students and those who were online can now experience walking by this figure in Swann Mall.

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