Wilfrid Laurier to house 22 life-size statues of Canadian PMs

A controversial proposal to erect 22 life-size statues of Canada’s prime ministers was rejected for Kitchener’s Victoria Park over a year ago, but has now found a home on Wilfrid Laurier University’s Waterloo campus.
Wilfrid Laurier president Max Blouw and sculptor Ruth Abernethy sit with the Sir John A. Macdonald statue. Abernethy included over 30 symbols on the piece, which represent Macdonald's personal life, political triumphs and scandals. (@LaurierNews/Twitter)

A controversial proposal to erect 22 life-size statues of Canada's prime ministers has found a home on Wilfrid Laurier University's Waterloo campus after being rejected for Kitchener's Victoria Park over a year ago.

The plan calls for statues of all past prime ministers to be erected, including short-term PMs like Joe Clark and Kim Campbell.

The project is led by a private donor group, with former Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate principal Jim Rodger and Sandvine CEO Dave Caputo at the helm.

"We need to know more about our country. We need to know more about our history," said Rodger in an interview on CBC's KW Morning Edition.

"And what we're doing is we're creating 22 bookmarks that are going to allow people to go into chapters of Canadian history and learn a little bit more about where they live and why things are as they are."

The initial proposal came forward in November 2013. Back then, the plan was to station the statues in downtown Kitchener's Victoria Park. The group asked the city to pay $300,000 over three years to cover landscaping and installation costs.

But the plan was rejected by city councillors when results of a web survey showed 79 per cent of 2,441 respondents said they didn't support the concept. Criticism ranged from it being aesthetically unappealing to unrepresentative of the city's multicultural community.

Undeterred, the group went ahead and commissioned a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, which was unveiled at the Kitchener Auditorium earlier this year. The statue now lives in the Quad at Wilfrid Laurier University until its permanent home on-campus is found.

"We are delighted to be part of a community project that unites Canadian art and history in such a creative and thought-provoking way," said Max Blouw, president and vice-chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University, in a news release.

"There is no better place to locate these statues than a university campus, which is dedicated to learning, scholarship and the invigorating exchange of ideas and perspectives. I look forward to the discussions and educational programming that these statues will encourage at Laurier and in the broader community."

The citizens' group will be in charge of financing the statues' creation and are starting a fundraising campaign for support. The university will pay for the installation and maintenance.

The group hopes to have all statues complete for the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.

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