‘Self-indulgent’: Churchill statue plans spark public controversy and bewilderment over motivation

Photos of the statue of Sir Winston Churchill planned for the McDougall Center in Calgary. PHOTO FROM SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL SOCIETY OF CALGARY WEBSITE

Premier Jason Kenney and Mark Milke, president of Calgary’s Sir Winston Churchill Society, made a surprise announcement Aug. 24 that a statue of Winston Churchill would be added to the McDougall Center plaza.

They announced the statue would be placed on the West Lawn of the Calgary Provincial Building, facing Turner Valley, where, according to Milke, “he loved the oil business.” Milke also mentioned Churchill’s love for the Rocky Mountains, which he visited in 1929.

“Winston Churchill was the greatest defender of democracy in the 20th century and, in my opinion, the greatest leader of the century,” said Prime Minister Kenney.

The statue, when installed, will be a larger-than-life bronze likeness of the former First Lord of the Admiralty and British Prime Minister. The Sir Winston Churchill Society of Calgary raised $307,000 through private funding to create and maintain the statue. The statue was created by Edmonton sculptor Danek Mozdzenski,

The statue is expected to be installed in the spring of 2023.

University of Calgary science politician Lisa Young said she expected the statue to be installed to mixed reactions.

“I think we’re at a place in Alberta politics where opinions are polarized on a lot of things.”

“There will be a section of Calgarians who will be delighted to see this statue erected. There will be plenty of Calgarians who will be completely indifferent. And then there are many who oppose it, or resent it and find it hurtful.

“Whatever happens, whether it stays on in the future or it drops, it’s going to be controversial for a while.”

Motivation for the statue in question

In a press release sent by the Sir Winston Churchill Society of Calgary, Prime Minister Kenney said that Churchill “loved Canada and Canadians loved him”.

“Indeed, Calgary is one of the only cities in Canada not to have a statue of Sir Winston Churchill, unlike Edmonton, whose citizens have proudly named the symbolic center of the city Sir Winston Churchill Square,” said the Prime Minister Kenney.

Churchill visited Canada several times during his life. He visited Alberta only once as part of a 1929 tour to visit the west coast of Canada and the United States.

In a press release sent by the Government of Alberta, the Prime Minister thanked donors to the Sir Winston Churchill Society of Calgary for raising funds for the statue.

“Churchill is said to have seen the McDougall School when he visited Calgary in 1929. It is a fitting tribute to one of the greatest champions of parliamentary democracy that he be commemorated at the seat of Alberta government in Calgary. , a great corporate city. the statement read.

Young called the statue a “self-indulgence” for the prime minister.

“He is in his final weeks as Prime Minister and he is using his position as Prime Minister to do something for his close colleagues in Churchill’s society,” she said.

Milke, who is chairman of the company, was also a key architect of Kenney’s United Conservative Party platform in 2019. After the election, Milke served as executive director of research at the Center Canadian Energy. It is more familiarly known to the public as the Energy War Room.

“Churchill, I think he’s a personal hero for the premiere, which is good, he’s entitled to it. I’m not sure it’s something that reflects a shared value of Albertans. So it raises questions about judgment in my mind,” Young said.

Leader not in the minds of contemporary Calgarians

Young said the statue does not commemorate any significant occasion or special relationship with Calgary.

“Why a British prime minister in front of the provincial government building in Calgary, right? It doesn’t commemorate any occasion, it doesn’t commemorate any special relationship with Alberta, it’s really just a function of the Prime Minister’s respect for this individual.

Although Alberta has a significant number of schools, parks, and even a mountain range named after the leader, these were largely confined to the period of Churchill’s late life and after his death. in 1965.

Edmonton had the only Churchill Society to operate during the prime minister’s lifetime.

“In Calgary there’s a high school named after him, there’s a swimming pool named after him — those were built 50 years ago and they had contextual meaning at that time,” said Young said.

“It was still the post-war era, and Churchill was more of a contemporary figure. There was even more of a sense that Canada had a special relationship with the UK, and Calgary and Canada were far less diverse places than they are now.

Writer Michael Hingston wrote for Atlas Obscura in 2016 about Alberta’s legacy as a hotspot for Churchill’s naming. Citing the then-contemporary sentiments of Edmontonians towards Churchill, he said that “many other names in use today, including the LRT station, include Churchill less as an active endorsement of the man than as a point of basic geographical reference for the place already named. him.”

“No one thinks particularly of Churchill’s historic role because of contemporary events,” Young said.

Churchill’s legacy is not universally shared

Churchill’s legacy is complex. A more recent 21st century critical analysis of his roles in British government has given him a mixed legacy.

Churchill is best known for his role as Prime Minister of Britain during World War II, leading that nation as part of the Allied effort in the war against Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

“There is no person more responsible for defeating fascism and the evils of the Nazi regime in World War II than Sir Winston Churchill. He was a gigantic figure, but not perfect,” Prime Minister Kenney said. .

“Like any leader, he made mistakes in a life spanning decades of public service in times of crisis and aftermath. Yet he is almost universally recognized as one of the greatest champions of parliamentary democracy in the world. ‘story.

In an op-ed piece written for the Calgary Herald by Milke, he called the statue a new piece of art to be loaned in perpetuity to the people of Alberta in remembrance of Churchill’s legacy.

“In 2022, we have to address the reflexive critics who argue that we shouldn’t celebrate historical figures given that their views don’t mesh perfectly with ours today. That’s an impossible standard. We’re not yet perfect and future generations will criticize some of our 21st century notions,” he wrote.

Reaction on social media has been mixed, with many Calgarians asking why now for the statue, or even why not at all. Others pointed to the racist statements Churchill had throughout his life, particularly towards Indians, Palestinians, and Native Americans and Canadians.

Among these contemporary criticisms of Churchill was his role in the Bengal famine of 1943, which resulted in the deaths of three million Indians. There is a consensus among historians and economists that the famine was the result of deliberate wartime policies that starved the population of food.

Supporters of the statue and Prime Minister Kenney have hit back at online criticism. The Unite Alberta Twitter account, run by the premier’s deputy director of government communications, Harrison Fleming, said that “Twitteratti’s faded lilies are either vandals of history or ignorant. Proud to be in a province that celebrates the titans of democracy.

Churchill statue in Edmonton vandalized in 2021

In 2021, the Churchill statue in Edmonton was defaced in Edmonton. No motive was attributed to the vandalism. It came during a series of statue vandalisms across the country during a time of heightened public awareness of racist statements made by historical figures.

Churchill was quoted in a CBC article on this vandalism, saying in 1937: “I do not admit, for example, that great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that any harm has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher race, a more worldly race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.

At the time, Prime Minister Kenney said on social media that “no member of the greatest generation can meet the standards of contemporary enlightenment. But we must always honor those who secured our peace and freedom.

Young said the Calgary statue could serve as a reminder of those colonial times, especially for Indo-Canadians.

“It’s not without problems to erect a statue of a British Prime Minister from a quasi-colonial era, in our time, because many Canadians are really trying to come to terms with the history of colonialism,” he said. she declared.

“It’s about prioritizing the views of the Prime Minister and the views of a small group of people around the Prime Minister over any attempt to reflect the views and considerations of the diverse community. from Calgary.

Young said putting up a statue was about making choices about which view of history would be valued.

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