A statue of Tommy Douglas now stands on the Riverfront Boardwalk in Weyburn, Sask. ((Sheryl Rennie/CBC))

Actor Kiefer Sutherland was on hand in Weyburn, Sask., Friday for the unveiling of a statue honouring his grandfather, Tommy Douglas.

Douglas, a former premier of Saskatchewan, is credited with introducing universal, publicly funded medical insurance in the province, a precursor to Canada's national health-care system.

Sutherland, the son of actors Shirley Douglas and Donald Sutherland, participated as a representative of the family.

Despite a steady drizzle and chilling winds, the unveiling on Riverfront Boardwalk attracted hundreds of people — many eager for a glimpse of Sutherland. Some brought DVD copies of 24, hoping for an autograph from the popular television show's star.

Many spectators told CBC News the community was honoured to be the site for a statue of such an important person in Canadian history.


'I've waited a long time to hold my grandpa's hand again,' Kiefer Sutherland said after unveiling a statue of Tommy Douglas. ((Sheryl Rennie/CBC))

"It's unbelievable," Sutherland said of the statue's likeness to his grandfather. "I've waited a long time to hold my grandpa's hand again."

Sutherland said he plans to bring his own children to Weyburn to teach them about his grandfather's legacy.

"My grandpa never wanted a monument," Sutherland added. "His work was going to be his legacy."

He said the family is especially moved. "I'm honoured," he said. "I wish we all could have been here but I'm really thrilled I got to be."

Sculptor inspired by health experience

"I feel great because something was done that was supposed to be done," sculptor Lea Vivot told CBC News.


Kiefer Sutherland, grandson of Tommy Douglas, has sculptor Lea Vivot on his arm as her statue of the former premier is unveiled. ((Sheryl Rennie/CBC))

"I feel that his contribution [to Canada] ... was monumental. I wanted his legacy to go on, to somehow preserve it for future generations And that was basically it. He just inspired me."

Vivot, who was born in Czechoslovakia but now lives in Ontario, said part of her inspiration for the statue sprang from her own health-care experience following a car accident.

"When I walked out of the hospital … I said: 'So who do we pay now?'" Vivot recalled. Her friends told her there was no bill for health services in Canada.

"They said: 'It's done.' I said: 'What do you mean, who did it?' So I investigated."

Vivot began the statue campaign in 2005 with a letter to the City of Weyburn. Community members rallied to the concept and raised money to cover the cost of the materials Vivot needed.

Vivot said she consulted with residents and members of the Douglas family to come up with the design.

"Standing very tall and kind of spiritual," Vivot said in describing the pose she chose. "We have maple leaves around him on the bottom, floating. And we also have one in the pocket, because I feel he had Saskatchewan in his pocket."

Douglas wanted no monument

Vivot acknowledged that Douglas himself said he didn't want to be featured in a monument. She said her sculpture honours his wish: "This would bring him back down to the people."

Vivot said she's not done with Douglas as a subject. She is planning another sculpture of him, although she won't say where it will go.

Douglas, trained as a Baptist preacher, got his start in Weyburn when he became the full-time minister at Calvary Baptist Church in 1929. He died in Ottawa in 1986, at age 81.

Weyburn is a city of 9,500 about 115 kilometres southeast of Regina.