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Don and Shirley Begg with WW II sculpture
Calgary Herald

Commemorating WWII Heroes: Cochrane’s Don Begg’s Latest Masterpiece Unveiled

Don's most recent commission, an eight-foot-tall bronze sculpture of a WWII rifleman, commemorates the Saskatchewan men who died during the war

The Cowboy Trail spans 700 kilometres between the Rocky Mountains and the Alberta prairie and showcases ranches, western-themed attractions, historic sites, and more. 

Don Begg’s Studio West Bronze Foundry and Gallery in Cochrane is one of the many attractions you will find on the Cowboy Trail.

Cochrane's Legacy Statue, known as the Chicken Lady by locals  Steven Wilhelm  Cochrane Times
Cochrane’s Legacy Statue, known as the Chicken Lady by locals | Steven Wilhelm | Cochrane Times

The humble studio features over 100 original works of art for sale, most of which were handcrafted by Don himself. 

Don is an international award-winning bronze sculptor based in Cochrane. He founded Studio West in 1970 and continues to own and operate the studio with his wife, Shirley.

Don’s work is more than your typical western bronzes.

He has received commissions worldwide and has sculpted over 85 monumental sculptures of all subject matters in North America alone. 

Each monument can be life-size or as small as 17 inches in height and takes anywhere between six months and a year to complete. 

According to Don and Shirley, the most time-consuming part of the process is creating the original clay model for each sculpture. 

Together, the couple have sculpted over 260 sculptures that can be found worldwide, but one of their most famous sculptures can be found right in Cochrane. 

The Legacy Statue, better known as the “Chicken Lady,” is an icon in Historic Downtown Cochrane. The statue is inscribed with the names of 40 female pioneers who helped develop the town. 

“That was not being commemorated; the spotlight wasn’t shone on those ordinary pioneer women,” Shirley told the Cochrane Times

Regarding spotlights, Don and Shirley don’t care much about being in one. 

Between endless news coverage and Studio West’s location on the Cowboy Trail, Don and Shirley don’t need advertisement.

Don Begg working on a sculpture
Don Begg working on a sculpture | Cochrane Now

A Monument To D-Day

However, Don’s most recent commission from the Royal Regina Rifles in Saskatchewan has earned him international praise. 

The Regina Rifle Regiment, the Royal Regina Rifles, were among the first infantry regiments to storm Juno Beach during the Normandy D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. 

Don and Shirley Begg at the Studio West Bronze Foundry and Gallery
Don and Shirley Begg at the Studio West Bronze Foundry and Gallery | Steven Wilhelm | Cochrane Times

During the Second World War, 458 members of the Royal Regina Rifles gave their lives to liberate Europe and defeat the Germans, including 108 servicemen who died on D-Day. 

First Nations people were exempt from military service but volunteered at higher rates than non-Indigenous Canadians. 

The Peepeekisis Cree First Nation in Saskatchewan comprised 20 percent of the Royal Regina Rifles during the Second World War. 

“That was the choice that they made to step forward, put their hand in the creator’s hand, and go off and do battle with the Nazis in Europe,” retired Royal Regina Rifles Brig.-Gen. Cliff Walker told CBC News.

Don was commissioned to create an eight-foot-tall bronze sculpture of a WWII rifleman charging at Juno Beach to commemorate the incredible Saskatchewan men who died during the war. 

“The Royal Regina Rifles have a proud history, and our government is honoured to have supported them in commemorating the 80th anniversary of D-Day and the Regiment‘s sacrifices during the Second World War,” Laura Ross, Saskatchewan’s minister of Parks, Culture, and Recreation, told West Central Online.

The statue was previewed during last month’s commemorative service at the Saskatchewan War Memorial.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Don and Shirley recently spent two weeks in France but weren’t there for a romantic getaway. 

Don Begg's statue on display in Regina, Saskatchewan
Don Begg’s statue on display in Regina, Saskatchewan | Patty Belbin | West Central Online

The couple unveiled the commemorative statue in Bretteville l’Orgueilleuse in the Place des Canadians on the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

Don was joined by Princess Anne, the Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Regina Rifles, who was there to commemorate D-Day and unveil the statue. 

“How fitting it is on this 80th anniversary of the landing and the commencement of the Battle for Normandy, that this statue has been unveiled in honour of the Regina Rifles who sacrificed so much for the cause of liberty and freedom,” said Princess Anne at the official ceremony. 

While in France, Don and Shirley, along with other dignitaries, were given a tour of the underground caverns and canals used by soldiers to hide from the Germans. 

They were also shown the path taken by Canadian soldiers as they fought their way from the shore to seize Bretteville from the Germans. 

“It was a great honour to be part of it, to make a statue to honour the young men and women who went and signed up of their own accord to go and fight in the war. There were farmers, teachers, lawyers, doctors, merchants – they all signed up. They thought it was the thing to do, defend our country,” Don told Cochrane Eagle.

Don recalls the many Canadian flags on homes and streets in Bretteville, thanking Canadians for their service.

“There were more flags there than what you would see in a whole year if you drove around Canada,” said Don.

After spending two weeks in France, Don and Shirley are finally home with plenty to reflect on following their memorable trip. 

In addition to receiving recognition for his statue, Don is named to the Alberta Order of Excellence, our province’s highest honour. 

Don and Shirley work with bronze, but they have hearts of gold. 

The Beggs capture and create moments that will last generations through their work.

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