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'Where he belongs:' Bronze tribute to Calgary's wandering turkey in the works

CALGARY — Efforts have begun to immortalize the late Turk Diggler, a wild turkey whose jaunts through several Calgary neighbourhoods delighted many as the COVID-19 pandemic's first wave upended normal life.

CALGARY — Efforts have begun to immortalize the late Turk Diggler, a wild turkey whose jaunts through several Calgary neighbourhoods delighted many as the COVID-19 pandemic's first wave upended normal life. 

"He was like our unofficial city mascot and it was the coolest thing," said Virgin Radio announcer Andrew Uyeno.

Shortly after Turk died in an apparent coyote attack in July, Uyeno started an online petition to erect a statue in the bird's honour, which has so far attracted more than 1,500 signatures. 

Uyeno is hoping a bronze likeness of Turk will one day grace a scenic viewpoint overlooking Calgary's skyline in the Ramsay neighbourhood.  

"Hopefully we can get him on Scotsman's Hill where he belongs."

It wouldn't be the first time wayward livestock received such an honour in the province. There's a bronze statue in Red Deer in central Alberta of Francis the pig, whose abattoir escape made headlines in 1990. 

Uyeno has been working on drumming up support and obtaining city approval, while fellow Turk fan Liz Blake has been in charge of lining up an artist. 

Blake said it was more difficult than expected to find someone local who could cast the bird in bronze. For months, she scouted candidates as far afield as Germany and China. 

The search finally led to Tom Hjorleifson in Canmore, about 100 kilometres west of Calgary. Blake said she was "blown away" by his lifelike bronze renderings of grizzlies, moose and other wildlife. 

"It just happened that he far superseded anything that I could find online."

Talks are preliminary and there have been no decisions on a design. 

Hjorleifson said the sculpture would take several months and would be an "involved, expensive procedure." The cost would likely come to about $20,000, including installation, he said. 

Turk would make a fine subject, he added. 

"The colours of a turkey are really incredible and some of them I could get with a traditional bronze patina," Hjorleifson said.

"They're quite fascinating birds and they're quite beautiful."

Uyeno and Blake haven't figured out how they'll fund the statue. One idea is to create a second sculpture from the same mould — a much cheaper endeavour than creating the original — and raffling it off. 

Turk began appearing in Ramsay during the spring of 2019. It's believed he escaped an agricultural event at the nearby Calgary Stampede grounds. 

Locals dubbed him Turk Diggler, an apparent play on the fictional porn star Dirk Diggler, but most call him Turk.

Last spring, as Turk matured, he began venturing into other central Calgary neighbourhoods. Some surmised he was looking for a mate. He seemed unperturbed by humans and would frequently stare at his own reflection in windows. 

Turk broadened his horizons at a time when most humans were stuck at home. 

"Here's this confident, kooky-looking bird who was now the opposite of being cooped up and visiting all the places we used to visit," said Avery Maxwell, who runs the Loyal Followers of the Ramsay Turkey Facebook page. 

Once Turk began his walkabout, the page ballooned to as many as 6,500 members from 1,400. The page still has more than 6,100 followers — months after Turk sightings ceased — who reminisce about the bird and share turkey-related memes.  

Soon after Turk's rise to fame, Maxwell asked followers who posted Turk art to the page if they wouldn't mind their designs being used for merchandise such as T-shirts, mugs and hats. They eagerly agreed. 

Maxwell said she couldn't let the phenomenon pass without leveraging it for good. 

Proceeds from the Turk merch are being split between the Alberta Children's Hospital Foundation and the Calgary Food Bank. As of early December, more than $6,300 had been raised and Maxwell said she hoped to hit $7,000 by year end.

"We can get into a habit this year of really focusing on every negative thing that comes our way," said Maxwell.

"I have to remind myself that we had Turk."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2020. 

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

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