First prime minister statue welcomed to Baden

July 6, 2016

New Hamburg Independent
Tue Jul 5 2016
Section: News
Byline: Scott Miller Cressman
Sir John A. Macdonald finally found a home in Baden, and a crowd of dignitaries and citizens gave the statue of Canada’s first prime minister a warm Wilmot welcome on June 30.

Several hundred people crowded around the fountain in Livingston Park, next to Castle Kilbride and the Township of Wilmot offices, to witness Sir John A.‘s long-awaited arrival.

With Canada Day just hours away, last week’s statue installation ceremony was heavy with praise for Macdonald’s role in confederation and the nation that he helped produce.

“We’re here to celebrate achievements of people who created this country and worked hard to get it to where it is today,” said Wilmot Mayor Les Armstrong in his opening remarks to an appreciative crowd. “I think we live in the best country in the world and I think we will continue to do so because of people like Sir John A. and all who followed in his footsteps.”

Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris, MP Harold Albrecht and Regional Chair Ken Seiling were also part of the ceremony. Also in attendance were Wellesley Mayor Joe Nowak, Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic and North Dumfries Mayor Sue Foxton.

Political officials marched to the statue by the sounds of New Hamburg bagpiper Andrew Huxley Osborne.

After a covering was removed to reveal the new statue staring stoically toward Snyder’s Road, the crowd sang “O Canada” with musical accompaniment from the New Hamburg Concert Band.

“We have so much to celebrate over the last 149 years,” said Albrecht during his turn at the podium. “God keep Canada glorious and free.”

“Wilmot really knows how to throw a party,” added Dave Caputo, the township resident who has co-lead the project for years trying to create a series of statues for every Canadian prime minister.

The statues – Macdonald and then the other prime ministers who will follow in future years – are a celebration of a unique and unified Canada, he said: “Thank you very much for being a home to this.”

This ongoing series of public art is a way for Canadians to give themselves a well-deserved pat on the back for being an accepting nation, said Armstrong.

The statue series also comes with free educational materials that will teach students from Grades 1 to 12 about history through Canada’s prime ministers. Those materials are not ready yet, but will be released online by Createscape, the non-profit group that has been working to create the statues, said Tracy Loch, curator and director of Castle Kilbride.

Loch does, however, have information about the multitude of secret symbols hidden on the statue. Artist Ruth Abernathy has included over 30 small symbols on Sir John A. and the two chairs he is holding. Each picture represents a part of Macdonald’s life or legacy, and interested viewers can get more information inside Castle Kilbride.

Wilmot Township council voted unanimously back in April to make Baden the host – eventually – for 23 life-size bronze statues of Canada’s prime ministers.

Finding a home for these statues had been challenging for the project’s founders. In early 2014, Kitchener city council said no to putting the statues in Victoria Park after public opposition over costs and their appropriateness. Then Wilfrid Laurier University agreed to be the art installation’s new home, but this past February the school also announced it no longer wanted them and removed the existing statue of Sir John A. Macdonald.

In those cases, some people opposed to the monuments said there had been a lack of public consultation and that the statues were culturally insensitive to First Nations people and others who suffered under these Prime Ministers.

Wilmot Township agreed to take the project under the condition that Createscape and its private donors cover all expenses and upkeep costs.

The non-profit group is now working to find funding and artists who will create the next prime ministers to join Macdonald. Future statues will be placed east of Castle Kilbride and the township offices. Many of the statues are expected to be placed near the trails at the north end of the property, near Wagler Ave.

Statue co-organizer Jim Rodger said that the committee in charge of the project hopes to commission a few new statues later this year and have them arrive in 2017.