At an athletic banquet held at the erstwhile Russell House hotel at the corner of Sparks and Elgin streets back on March 18,1892, then governor general Lord Frederick Stanley offered — via letter read aloud to the dinner group — to donate a championship cup to the winning hockey club in the Dominion.
The offer from the hockey-mad Stanley family was gratefully accepted, and so was born the Stanley Cup, object of Canadian passion ever since.
To commemorate the 125th anniversary of Lord Stanley's intention to provide a silver bowl (it wasn't actually awarded until 1893), we are on the cusp of erecting a monument to the event.
Of the eight competing designs unveiled this week, seven prominently feature — wait for it — representations of the familiar Stanley Cup. One, for example, takes an abstract approach:
Another is basically a really big version of the cup, with disembodied hands emerging from the ground to hold it up:
Yet another is a depiction of the elegant original bowl, before it acquired its tall base:
There's a cross section of a big cup with a little Lord Stanley standing inside it:
One features Stanley offering his famed silverware to two bronze youngsters:
There's one that employs a visual trick that, when the viewer stands in the right spot down Sparks Street, tempts them to "find the 'sweet spot' that allows the image to be seen as the classic current Cup," according to the description provided by the design team, which includes famed Canadian writer and artist Douglas Coupland.
Unfortunately, from any other angle, this entry looks more like a Stanley Cup-shaped cannon aimed directly at the popular bear sculpture that will be moved to the end of the block to make way for this new monument.
There are two rather austere proposals: a monolithic, modern take on the tradition monumental arch, which will cast a reverse-shadow in the shape of the cup, and an experiential concept that would allow pedestrians to walk through two translucent curved walls printed with the names of winning Stanley Cup teams. Either of these might seem more in keeping with the mood of nearby National War Memorial.
On the other hand, the National War Memorial commemorates those who gave their lives in the service our nation, while these are, after all, only ideas for monuments to commemorate a beloved sports trophy.
In fact, finding the right tone in which to represent Lord Stanley's gift is difficult. That's not the fault of the artists or designers. Designing a monument to the donor of the Stanley Cup is tricky because the trophy itself is already a monument, a symbol of hockey excellence. We take it seriously because it's so much fun, and the monument needs to somehow capture both elements.
Which leads us to the question — why do we need this?
Considering we are footing much of the bill, shouldn't we get a say? Instead, this process has been led by the non-profit group, Lord Stanley Memorial Monument Inc., which has been working for years to realize this project.
Canadian Heritage contributed $2.1 million, while the Senators and NHL are throwing in $500,000 each. The City of Ottawa is donating $50,000, and the land. Firms donated more than $1 million worth of services in-kind, according to the group's chairman George Hunter, but cash donations from private sponsors were harder to come by.
The Lord Stanley Memorial folks have lofty ambitions for this monument. A video on the group's website says the winning monument will "cause us to reflect on the sport of hockey." Presumably because what Canadian culture is missing is adequate attention to hockey.
The monument is supposed to "educate," although it's hard to see how that would be achieved with any of these designs. (More will likely be accomplished on that front when the Stanley Cup is celebrated at Rideau Hall during a hockey-palooza planned for four days next March.)
Monuments are often tourist attractions. The winning installation may well become a popular stop for visitors to the capital looking for a special photo to mark their time here.
More important, though, is the fact that a monument is supposed to help us remember. But what memory needs shoring up here? That Lord Stanley donated a cup? We know that. That his gift has a grand place in the saga of hockey? That's a worthy story, but not one we'll know any better because of something plunked on a prime location on Sparks Street.