Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Standing Still

A couple of well-meaning history buffs are attempting to bring a little {still} life into Kitchener's Victoria Park.... by erecting 22 bronze statues of former Prime Ministers surrounding Victoria Parks Commons (that giant open space near the clock tower).

The Statue Project

The Statue Project plans to raise $2 million towards the project and has asked the city to kick in $300,000 toward the statue bases and installation. They have also asked the city to provide charitable receipts for donors.

Kitchener City Council heard the pitch and has decided to move on with public consultation in the New Year. Local councillors raised some good points, wondering why a project like this should be based in Kitchener, rather than Ottawa. Our own capital city doesn't even have statues of every Prime Minister. While raising questions, Mayor Carl Zehr admonished councillors for making it difficult for the project to move forward, calling it a "gift" to the city.

While I rarely agree with Kitchener City Councillors, I was in complete shock when I heard voices of reason. Why would a project of this magnitude not be looking for federal funding? This is hardly the kind of project that should be solely funded at a local level. Why in Victoria Park? Why Prime Ministers?

James Howe wrote and suggested that the statues, instead of being placed around the only open space in Victoria Park, be placed at the rapid transit stations that will be part of the much argued about Ion system. I'd go a step farther and question the choice of Prime Ministers as statue subjects.

Do we really need more reminders of the privileged white men who are taxing us on a daily basis? Do the homeless that sleep in Victoria Park need reminders of the men who have continually cut services and funding, possibly contributing to the position they are currently in? Were our former Prime Ministers good people? Bribery, alcoholism, Hitler-admirers and the fathers of Residential Schools...  (*edit: read more about the good, the bad and the ugly of Canada's Prime Ministers over here at My Contention)

Does anyone care about our former Prime Ministers outside of history books? Do we need a reminder about how close Woodside was to closing only last year? If people are not visiting the former home of a former Prime Minister, one who graces our paper money no less, will they travel to visit Victoria Park because it has some statues? Councillor Frank Etherington thinks the project will bring tourism to the region. Likely?

Something I see from local residents is the suggestion of having statues (somewhere) yes, but not (solely) of Prime Ministers. Why not statues of prominent Canadians? Visitors to the KW area WILL make a special trip to Victoria Park (or elsewhere) if they could pose with a statue of William Shatner, Margaret Atwood, Chris Hadfield, Wayne Gretzky, Terry Fox or David Suzuki. Statues of GREAT Canadians. Statues of people we as Canadians care about. Kim Campbell may have been our first female Prime Minister but for a job she held for less than 6 months, is she deserving of being immortalized in bronze for a lifetime?

Victoria Park has one completely open space. It is used for soccer games and yoga classes, music festivals and extreme frisbee. It is a truly wonderous space and in my humble opinion, should not be messed with. What are the chance of these statues getting damaged during set up or tear down of park events. Will the placement of these statues change the way events need to be set up? Will it take more time? What are the chances that someone will get hurt in a soccer or frisbee game with these statues surrounding the playing field?

I wouldn't suggest statues in our park at all but, if that's the only place the statues could go, I'd suggest spreading the statues out throughout the park and turning the entire park into our own version of Canada's Walk of Fame.

Mayor Zehr calls it a gift to the city. But there are some gifts we are not in a position to accept. If the gift is not cohesive with our local arts plan, if the gift will cost us money and if the residents don't want the gift, we cannot accept it.

Even IF, the Statue Project founders offered to fundraise ever last cent of the project and asked us for nothing, does that require the city to accept the gift? Absolutely not. Obviously a flat refusal is out of the question but I think we can dig deeper and try to collaborate on a spectacular project that will be a boon for our city. One that supports local artists, respects resident wishes and celebrates the diversity of our area.

Leave the politicians in Ottawa. 

If we're going to support any sort of statue project in Kitchener, make it one that celebrates people who are unique, innovative, enlightening and glorifying.... the kind of Canadians who make us proud.

No comments:

Post a Comment