Kitchener-Waterloo

Prime ministers' statues removed from Baden park after Wilmot council cancels project

Days after Wilmot councillors voted to end the Prime Ministers' Path project in Baden, the statues that were along the pathway have been removed, township staff say.

Next step is to set up committee to decide fate of statues

This John A. Macdonald statue was located beside Castle Kilbride in Baden, Ont., as part of the Prime Ministers Path project. It was removed in July 2020. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

The remaining statues along the Prime Ministers' Path in Baden have been removed from a park beside the Wilmot township administrative building, township staff say.

The statues of Sir Robert Borden, Kim Campbell, William Lyon Mackenzie King and Lester Pearson were removed as of Wednesday morning, the township said in a news release.

The statue of Sir John A. Macdonald was put into storage in 2020 after members of the public called for it to be removed from the park because he was an architect of the residential school system.

As well, another statue for the "Unfortunate Four" — Sir John  Abbott, Sir Mackenzie Bowell, Sir John Thompson, and Sir Charles Tupper — has remained in storage and was never installed.

The move to remove the statues comes after township councillors voted unanimously on Monday night to end the PM Path project after hearing a report from First Peoples Group, an Indigenous advisory group that held public consultations on the project.

Nathan Scott's statue of Sir Robert Borden, called The Confident Patriot, has now been removed from the park beside Castle Kilbride along with three other statues. The Prime Ministers' Path project was cancelled by township council on Monday night. (Wilmot Township/Twitter)

Coun. Cheryl Gordijk told CBC K-W's The Morning Edition on Tuesday that removing the statues and cancelling the contract with Createspace, the group behind the project, was the first recommendation by the First Peoples Group.

Gordijk said the next step will be to form a community group "with all voices at the table to find out what to do next with the statues and how to proceed with them."

That may involve reaching out to museums, she said.

"That was the overall voice that was heard, was to put them into a museum so that they could be given a proper context within knowledge about our past," she said.

Rocky history of project

The prime minister statue project has faced controversy from the start. The initial idea was that the privately-funded project would see the creation of 22 bronze sculptures of past Canadian prime ministers to mark Canada's 150th birthday.

Proponents had also hoped the statues could be used as a teaching device for the public. 

Previous attempts to place the statues in Victoria Park in Kitchener and at Wilfrid Laurier University were met with controversy. 

In March 2014, Kitchener city council rejected the proposal in an 8-1 vote, pointing to a survey that indicated residents opposed the idea. 

In June 2015, project organizers thought they had found a home for the sculptures at Wilfrid Laurier University, but shortly after the project was announced, a petition circulated to stop it. Opponents to the statues said that celebrating the country's past prime ministers would be culturally insensitive given the university is built on land that traditionally belongs to Indigenous people and that not enough consultation was done.

In February 2016, the university's board of governors nixed the idea, a move criticized by Conrad Black who said the university "folded like a $3 suitcase" in the face of opposition to the project. 

In April 2016, Wilmot council voted unanimously to allow the project to be placed in parkland beside Castle Kilbride and the township's administrative offices. The first statue, that of Macdonald, was installed in June 2016.

In July 2020, the Macdonald statue was removed from its place beside Castle Kilbride and placed in storage, where it remains.

On July 5, 2021, Wilmot council voted unanimously to end the project and remove the four remaining statues. Those statues were removed by July 7, staff said.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said Kitchener voted against the project unanimously. In fact, it was an 8-1 vote to cancel the project. Then-mayor Carl Zehr was the only member of council who voted against the motion to scrap the project.
    Jul 07, 2021 9:50 AM ET

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