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Local artist known for wood carvings in Bois-des-Esprits forest passes away


Murray Watson, a local woodcarver whose work decorates trees throughout the Bois-des-Esprits forest in south Winnipeg, has passed away.

Ryan Palmquist with Save Our Seine confirmed Watson's passing to CTV News Tuesday evening.

Watson was the man behind dozens of carvings on trees in the Bois-des-Esprits forest. He previously told CTV News that he considered the trees blank canvases that held inner secrets.

"I have a love of nature and animals and I like working with my hands," Watson said in a 2020 interview.

He started carving wood spirits into dead trees in the forest starting in 2010, and said he was inspired by the artists that created Woody the Tree Spirit.


Denis DePape was vice-president of Save Our Seine in 2010 when he came across Watson on a particularly fateful March day in the Bois-des-Esprits forest.

“There was this guy carving this great grey owl, and it turned out to be this absolutely wonderful addition to the Bois-des-Esprits,” DePape recalled in an interview with CTV News Winnipeg.

The great grey owl, which is Manitoba’s official bird, also happened to be Watson’s first of many wood spirit carvings in the forest.

Artist Murray Watson is shown in a March 2010 photo creating his first ever wood spirit carving in Bois-des-Esprits forest - a great grey owl that remains there to this day. (Source: Denis DePape)

DePape stopped and chatted with the carver, learning about his plans to carve the forest’s dead trees into beautiful works of art for public viewing.

He went on to create dozens of tree spirits in the Bois-des-Esprits Forest, which is often referred to as Winnipeg’s magical forest.

“Murray’s carvings definitely contribute to that magical feeling,” DePape said.

Over the years, DePape became a fan of the carver’s work. His kids even gifted him and his wife with original Murray Watson carvings commissioned for their 70th birthdays – a great horned owl for him and a hummingbird for her. They remain in the forest to this day, along with Watson’s first grey owl carving.

In the wake of his death, DePape believes the prolific carver’s legacy will endure in the work he left behind.

“He’s leaving that forest with public art, which people can enjoy. Even now that Murray is gone, those carvings are going to be there for a long, long time.”

Denis DePape pose with the great horned owl carving commissioned for his 70th birthday in the Bois-des-Esprits forest. (Source: Denis DePape) Top Stories

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