Kitchener-Waterloo

Sir John A Macdonald home at last: PM statue project organizers unveil first sculpture in Baden

Castle Kilbride in Baden has nine acres of parkland and is the 'ideal setting' for the prime minister statue project, organizer Jim Rodger says.

Castle Kilbride 'an ideal setting in terms of tourism,' project organizer says

The statue of Sir John A. Macdonald will reside in Baden on the ground of Castle Kilbride. (Albert Delitala/CBC News)

It seems political rivalries do not extend to sculptures.

A statue of Conservative prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald will be taking up residence at Castle Kilbride in Baden – a grand Victorian home built in 1877 by mill owner and Liberal MP James Livingston.

The two men would have verbally duked it out on the floor of the House of Commons between 1882 and 1900 when Macdonald was prime minister and Livingston served as an MP for Waterloo South. 

Despite that, the organizer of a project that will see 22 statues of prime ministers placed on the parkland surrounding Livingston's home said it is the perfect location.

"We wanted a home in Waterloo region, we were looking for a park-like setting. In and around Castle Kilbride there's nine acres of parkland, and it's an ideal setting in terms of tourism. It's halfway between Stratford and Kitchener," Jim Rodger said.

Controversial project

The project was first proposed in the fall of 2013, when it was suggested the 22 statues could go in Victoria Park in Kitchener. But city council rejected the idea after public outcry.

Wilfrid Laurier University then agreed in June 2015 to allow the statues to be placed on its campus, only to reverse the decision in February after concerns were raised about the choice to memorialize Canadian prime ministers on traditional Indigenous lands without consulting those groups first.

The much-debated prime minister status project finally found a home this spring after Wilmot Township councillors voted unanimously to host the statues on the Castle Kilbride grounds.

The council, "in its wisdom, made the unanimous decision to accept Createscape Waterloo Region's Past Prime Ministers Statue Project," Wilmot Mayor Les Armstrong said in a statement after the April 4 meeting.

"We look forward to seeing the statues of the former prime ministers of Canada over the next few years as their rebirth occurs through the hands of Wilmot's own sculptor, Ruth Abernethy and other artists nation-wide."

Statues a link to history

Rodger said he hopes the statues will be used as a guide to the past.

"You'll be able to go out there with your family or on some kind of a class trip," he said.

"A lot of people think we're memorializing the prime ministers and we don't quite look at it that way. What we're trying to do is use the prime ministers as bookmarks and as entry points to eras in Canadian history," he added.

What we're trying to do is use the prime ministers as bookmarks and as entry points to eras in Canadian history.- Jim Rodger, prime minister statue project co-organizer

"We talk about things that happen during Diefenbaker's time or Macdonald's time, so if the prime minister is a bookmark, then we can look at events that happened in society and political events that happened at that particular time. It's almost like when we look at the prime minister, we're flicking a switch and that's taking us to the things that happened at that time. We can look at those and we can see how they affected life and policies in Canada today."

Completion years away

The statue of Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister Macdonald, was set to be officially unveiled Thursday night ahead of the summer Thursday evening concert series at Castle Kilbride.

Wilfrid Laurier president Max Blouw and sculptor Ruth Abernethy sit with the Sir John A. Macdonald statue when the university announced it would welcome the statue project. Abernethy included more than 30 symbols on the piece, which represent Macdonald's personal life, political triumphs and scandals. (@LaurierNews/Twitter)

"Several more" statues are set to be in place before Canada Day 2017 – in time to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday, Rodger said.

"It's going to take years" to complete the entire project, he added.

"We'll just keep chipping away at it until we have all of them out there."

with files from Max Leighton

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