Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Mushrooms to Monuments

Ottawa is not known like many other Capitals for its monuments. Until about 10 years ago, we had the National War Memorial unveiled by King George VI in June 1939, we also had monuments to dead Prime Ministers around the Parliament buildings and we had a statue to Terry Fox who ran partly across Canada to raise money for Cancer research before dying himself of the disease. There was also a monument to the Boer War in South Africa, that was about all. However in the last 10 years there as been a veritable mushrooming of monuments all around the city.
A reflection piece described as isolation or feeling lost in the city of Edmonton.

After September 11, 2001 a new concepts came into being, automatically anyone serving as a police officer or in the Fire Dept, was deemed a hero. Was never thought that very appropriate, given that some may be heroes but not all. One has to be distinguished by some heroic act to merit such laurels.
In popular culture it also became the thing to call ''hero'' anyone who might survive or die of a grave illness. We have a monument composed of gigantic multi-colored metal flowers to survivors of cancer. Though this disease is often fatal and is clearly a terrible ordeal, I do not know if we can call a survivor a hero. I would think of a determined person or a person who fought hard and survived through difficult odds.
National War Memorial and tomb of the unknown soldier
City of Ottawa memorial to firefighters.

We now have in Ottawa two monuments to Firefighters, one is a City monument and the other a National Monument, neither is very inspired, its in the style of ''in your face commemoration'', the meat and potato approach to monuments.  There is nothing beautiful about it, noble or inspiring. There is a National Monument to Police Officers on Parliament Hill, in a 19th century re-creation of a Gazebo which stands high up on the cliff overlooking the Ottawa River.  The view is spectacular but it does not make you think of the Police Officers who died in the line of duty.
Monument to fallen animals involved in armed conflicts.
the rather ugly monument to Human Rights, all concrete.

Around the Cenotaph on Confederation Square, 14 heroic statues have appeared in the last few years.
They are life size bronze statues commemorating military heroes, men and women who distinguished themselves from the 17th century to the 20th in different military conflicts. We also have a tomb of the unknown soldier in front of the great War Memorial unveiled in 1939. Unfortunately most people have no idea who those heroes are, Canadian history is not widely known.

There are many more monuments they do not inspire and fail from an aesthetic point of view. I wonder if we are not simply copying other countries in a rush to build monuments. The most recent one is the monument to fallen animals in wars. London has a beautiful one, now we have one next to the Boer War memorial.

We also now have a National Memorial Cemetery like Arlington in Washington DC. All this to say if you visit Ottawa, you will see there are lots of monuments now but you may wonder why they were built in the first place and why they end up where they are. Must be monument by committee.

 Monument to General San Martin in Minto Park
 Monument to battered women

Gazebo on Parliament Hill known as the National Police Memorial


  1. "isolation or feeling lost in the city of Edmonton" -- hey, we're famous!

    1. Its a very big sculpture probably 20 feet tall. It is located by the City Hall in Ottawa on a quiet plaza.

  2. how monuments are designed - and which ones in time 'succeed' must be an intriguing topic.

    1. Indeed, the National War Memorial (1939) is of an era when monuments had to stir up feelings, the bronze statues crossing the arch are in fact real soldiers who went through war. There is one female figure who in fact was someone's grandmother who lived in Ottawa. That monument to a lot of people means something. Modern monuments are too impersonal.

  3. This is an impressive post, Laurent, putting together all this information on so many Canadian monuments with your own thoughts.

    I hadn't thought of the generalization of hero thing quite like this before. I really do try to celebrate everyone but I agree with you about "hero" being a special term. It waters down the meaning when it's too broadly applied.

    1. This thought of yours gave me an idea that another post on this concept is needed.

  4. More or less on this theme, I final got to Bronze at the Royal Academy, and thought it was magnificent. Worth the price of admission for the satyr at the beginning alone. Stupendous assembly. Glad you enjoyed it and that J's recommendation worked for both of us.

    1. David, Yes Bronze belongs in a group by itself. The Satyr we saw in Sicily and was happy to see again in London. A truly unique piece and I wonder what it looked like in the original grouping, we can only guess.