Friday, July 1, 2011

Statues in Canada

By D. Gordon E. Robertson (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
( or GFDL
(], via Wikimedia Commons
Happy Canada Day! Today we begin a series of weekly posts about statues and other outdoor public art that might serve as inspiration to Mary on the Green, the project to raise a memorial to Mary Wollstonecraft on Newington Green. The first item in this series is a tea party in Ottawa, which is not at all like the Tea Party in Washington D.C. (Will and Kate, that nice young couple whose recent nuptials were attended by a few zombies, happen to be in Canada for a few days. "The divine right of husbands, like the divine right of kings, may, it is hoped, in this enlightened age, be contested without danger."

The Famous Five
By Eugene M. Finn / National Film Board of Canada [Public domain],
 via Wikimedia Commons
Let us contemplate the example of the Famous Five. It should be noted that most of these activists had views on subjects other than women's rights, including the sort of views that make biographies multi-faceted and celebration problematic. Eugenics, anyone? Quite common at the time. But all of that strays too far from Mary Wollstonecraft, so we shall thankfully skate by, and focus on examples of stimulating public art commemorating remarkable women.

These Famous Five are not the protagonists of the children's adventure stories by Enid Blyton. These Five were activists for women's rights in the early part of the twentieth century. These women, also known as the Valiant Five, took the so-called Persons Case all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court in 1927, and then, when the ruling was not what they wanted, over the water to the British Privy Council. The Justices weighed the evidence and, in October 1929, decided that "women are persons" under the meaning of the relevant act, thus granting them the right to full participation in the political life of their country. It took only a decade for them to be recognised with the plaque depicted here.On the 80th anniversary of the ruling the Five were named Honourary Senators.

The statues in situ
A bronze sculpture of the Five was created by Barbara Paterson, showing them standing and sitting, talking and taking tea. Two 1 and 1/4 life-sized copies exist, one on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and one in downtown Calgary. Last year, a similar group of statues by Helen Granger was unveiled in Winnipeg, outside the Manitoba Legislature.

By Philip Tellis (originally posted to Flickr as Tea Party)  [CC-BY-SA-2.0 
(], via Wikimedia Commons. 
The wooden surface on which the figures stand is level; the seasickness is trick photography.
Here is what the MPs, Senators, researchers, assistants, advisors, lobbyists, librarians, security guards, caterers, cleaners, tour guides, other parliamentary staff, and reporters pass on their way to work in Ottawa. No doubt schoolchildren are taken on pilgrimage, and certainly many tourists make their way there, by accident or on purpose.

When I came upon the group on Parliament Hill for the first time, knowing of the landmark legal case but not of the existence of the statues, they were a lovely surprise. They were being polished by two of the park custodians, with their portable litter bins and hi-viz jackets. I found it poignant to see the two men giving such care and attention to these five women.

The image below is from Olympic Square in Calgary, unveiled in 1999. The young royals are going there too -- to the city, but I doubt if they will be shown the statues.

By User Thivierr on en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Less well documented is the set of statues in Winnipeg. (There is an article and photo of its unveiling in the Winnipeg Free Press, 18 June 2010.)

The artistic process
Paterson's work is represented by Willock and Sax, the Banff National Park Gallery of Fine Art and Photography. If I understand correctly, the sculpture project was spear-headed by the Famous 5 Foundation, which exists to celebrate leadership in women, and runs events and programmes, many targeted at youth. It is based in Alberta, as were the Famous Five. A few words on the artistic and administrative process from the gallery website:
In order to secure the commission for the Famous 5 monuments, being one of nineteen people approached to submit a proposal, Barbara tendered drawings as well as recommendations (final size 1 1/4 lifesize, ground level, interactive), which were taken up by the jury. The three 'finalists' from the first round presented maquettes (in the wax stage) at 1/4 size of the final 1 1/4 lifesize monument. 
It was decided by the Monument Project Jury that Barbara's concept was the one that best encapsulated the idea of the five women who became known as the Famous 5. When Barbara's maquette secured her commission that work was cast in bronze, which travelled across Canada to generate interest in the Monument project.... 
In 1999 the first monument was installed in Calgary (Olympic Square) and in 2000 the second monument was installed east of the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. Remember that the monuments are 1 1/4 lifesize, so when you sit on Emily's Chair think of Alice in Wonderland. 

The women themselves
The Five were Famous for good reasons individually as much as collectively. Three of the sculpted figures are standing, starting with the woman granted the central position in the artistic composition. The one holding the declaration, Nellie Mooney McClung, is probably the most famous Canadian suffragist, below:

By D. Gordon E. Robertson (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
or GFDL  (], via Wikimedia Commons

The figure with her hand on the (Alice in Wonderland) chair is Emily Murphy, the first female judge in the British Empire:

By en:User:Montrealais (Own work)
[GFDL (],
 via Wikimedia Commons

The woman with her arm outstretched and her other hand on her hip is Irene Parlby, a farm women's leader who became the first female cabinet minister in Alberta:

By User:Thivierr (Digital camera photo taken by uploader)
[GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0
via Wikimedia Commons

Two of the women are sitting, taking tea together, either side of a small table.

By D. Gordon E. Robertson (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
 ( or GFDL
(], via Wikimedia Commons

The one with her cup raised, gesturing towards the "Women are persons" declaration, is Henrietta Muir Edwards, founder of the Victorian Order of Nurses:

By D. Gordon E. Robertson (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
 ( or GFDL
(], via Wikimedia Commons

The other one, with her hands clasped, is Louise Crummy McKinney, the first woman elected to the legislature of Alberta (and Wikipedia says the first so elected anywhere in the British Empire -- but I thought New Zealand got there first?):

By User:Thivierr (Digital camera photo taken
by uploader) [GFDL (
 or CC-BY-SA-3.0
via Wikimedia Commons
Notice the clothes: some are in dresses, some in coats and furs; some with hats, some hatless, as if indoors. And the snow settles on them all...

I've collected (I refuse to say "curated") various images into Flickr galleries, gathered for those who like slideshows: the Calgary statuesthe Ottawa statues, and the Winnipeg statues.

In a later post, I'll show how people show their love for them. That will have to wait a while, though. It is national celebration month, so next week, celebratory memorial sculptures from the United States (I have two groups of activists in mind), and the week after that, Storm the Bastille with public outdoor art from France. Vive la revolution! 

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