Markham councillors vote to move controversial cow sculpture

Markham city councillors have voted to remove a towering chrome cow sculpture from a quiet suburban park after a fierce revolt from local residents.

Towering and controversial 'Charity' cow sculpture drew fierce opposition from local residents

The cow sculpture is more than seven metres in height. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Markham city councillors have voted to remove a towering chrome cow sculpture from a quiet suburban park after a fierce revolt from local residents.

The 7.6 metre public art installation commemorates Brookview Tony Charity, an award-winning local show cow, and is located in the Cathedraltown subdivision near Highway 404 and Elgin Mills Road.

At a meeting of the public development services committee Markham councillors voted 8-5 to remove the massive sculpture, which was donated to the city free of charge, and have staff study alternative locations.

The sculpture as seen through the second-floor bathroom window of an area resident (Danny Da Silva)

Resident backlash

More than a dozen Cathedraltown residents attended the meeting to plead for the sculpture's removal.

Several made deputations decrying everything from the cow's height to its "dangerous" features, which they say are like "daggers and knives."

Charity Crescent resident Vick Lam told the meeting the cow sculpture is "terrifyingly close" to his home and that his children are having trouble sleeping at night.

He also complained that the cow's popularity is bringing too much traffic to the quiet street and showed the meeting a photo of "random people selling drinks" to a crowd of cow-watchers.

Another neighbour, Danny Da Silva, told councillors how the tall sculpture dominates views in the neighbourhood and residents feel "powerless in trying to avoid the gaze of the onlooking cow."

"We simply have no place to hide," Da Silva said in his deputation.

The artwork, titled Charity, Perpetuation of Perfection, by sculptor Ron Baird, was donated by prominent local developer Helen Roman-Barber, whose family owned its namesake show cow.

Mayor wants cow to stay

Mayor Frank Scarpitti did not support the motion to remove the sculpture, which he called an "incredible piece of art."

"I don't dismiss there is some impact to the people living there, but quite honestly anything we could have put there would have had as much or maybe worse impact," Scarpitti said after the vote.

City staff will now study alternative locations for the sculpture and report back to council before the end of the year.

Markham residents are not happy with a large sculpture of a cow that was installed in their neighbourhood. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

Roman-Barber previously told CBC Toronto she was not interested in another location and Scarpitti isn't sure how she'll react to Monday's vote.

"She's the one who designed this whole area. If she thought that there was a more appropriate area, I think we would have seen that much earlier," Scarpitti said.

Council previously approved location

Monday's rejection of the sculpture reversed an earlier approval from city council and the neighbourhood's councillor Alan Ho.

"We dropped the ball," Ho said at the meeting, referencing the original approval.

Other councillors complained that they didn't have enough information about the artwork when they originally voted to accept it.

"We made a mistake," Coun. Karen Rea said. "We did not have all the facts."

The exact wording of the motion, tabled by Ho, was amended several times during a lengthy process that saw councillors repeatedly seeking advice from the city's lawyer.

In the end, they voted that the sculpture be removed only after its "final acceptance and receipt of ownership … by the city or as otherwise agreed with the donor.

The cow has been in place since July but there is still work and engineering certification required to formally complete the donation process.

About the Author

Trevor Dunn

Trevor Dunn is an award-winning journalist with CBC Toronto. Since 2008 he's covered a variety of topics, ranging from local and national politics to technology on the South American countryside. Trevor is interested in uncovering news: real estate, crime, corruption, art, sports. Reach out to him. Se habla español.