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Dumping statue in the Don River a statement about colonialism, performance artists say

A team of performance artists will dump a replica of one of Toronto's most famous statues into the Don River Sunday, hoping it will spark a conversation about colonialism and its role in our public spaces.

Equestrian statue of Edward Vll has been standing in Queen's Park since 1969

A replica equestrian statue of King Edward VII floats down the Don River during a weekly performance by art duo Life Of A Craphead in Toronto, Ontario, Canada October 29, 2017. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

As the debate continues over whether statues of colonial leaders should have a place in today's world, a new Toronto performance art project is diving into the conversation by dumping the equestrian statue of King Edward VII into the Don River ... well, a replica, anyway.

"It's designed to float like the statue has been toppled. It's a bit submerged," said Amy Lam of the performance art group  Life of a Craphead.

Lam and her partner Jon McCurley will send a life-size version of the bronze statue, made of styrofoam and wood, down the Don River on Sunday afternoon. 

The performance is titled King Edward VII Equestrian Statue Floating Down the Don River. It follows controversies in the United States about Confederate monuments, and in Halifax about the statue of Edward Cornwallis, the governor of Nova Scotia who issued the so-called scalping proclamation, offering a cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi'kmaq person.

Statue came to Toronto from India in 1969

Lam said they were inspired by the discovery of some historical facts about British royalty, including how the real equestrian statue of King Edward VII found a home at Queen's Park.

It came to Toronto back in 1969 after India, eager to shed signs of British rule, got rid of it.  

Performance artist group Life of a Craphead poses in front of the King Edward VII equestrian statue at Queens Park. The duo will be sending a replica of the statue down the Don River. (Yuula Benivolski)

Then there was the story involving Princess Margaret's visit to Toronto in 1958, and the desire not to offend her with the nasty odour emanating from the Don River.

"The river smelled so bad because it was so polluted that city officials decided to mask the smell by putting perfume into the river," Lam said.

By dumping the statue's replica into the river, Lam hopes to spark conversations.

"What are the forces of settler colonialism that have changed Toronto and that have changed this river?" she asked.

"Those same forces are kind of embodied in this King Edward statue."  

'Toronto as a colonial city'

This project is the latest offering from the Don River Valley Park Art Program, presented by Evergreen, the city of Toronto and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

A statue of Edward Cornwallis stands facing England - with his back to Halifax - in Cornwallis Park. (Canadian Press)

Curator Kari Cwynar says the dumping of the replica statue in the river sheds light on "the way that the Don River has been changed and polluted through industry and the building of Toronto as a colonial city."

She said the statue will float down the river from Riverdale Park and south over the course of three hours. 

You can catch the performance on Sunday afternoons between 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on the following days:

  • Oct. 29
  • Nov. 5
  • Nov. 12
  • Nov. 19