Black Virgin Mary statue still not fixed nearly 1 year after being painted white

Almost a year after its hands and face were painted white, the historic Notre Dame D'Afrique statue in Ottawa's Vanier neighbourhood hasn't been fixed — much to the dismay of some residents and advocates.

City says it's still 'fully committed' to restoring the Vanier statue

A statue of a Black Virgin Mary is beside a picture of the same statue after the face and hands were painted white.
A comparison of what the Notre Dame D'Afrique statue looked like before and after the vandalism late last year. ( and Buntola Nou/CBC)

Almost a year after being painted white, a statue of a Black Virgin Mary in Ottawa's Vanier neighbourhood has yet to be fixed. 

The Notre Dame D'Afrique, or Our Lady of Africa, statue stands in Richelieu-Vanier Park on Pères-Blancs Avenue.

It normally has dark skin, but in November 2022 it was discovered that someone had painted its face and hands white.

At the time the city, which is responsible for the statue's upkeep, said it did not authorize the painting and considered it an act of vandalism.

It later covered it up and said it was planning to begin restoration work in the spring.

In an emailed statement Tuesday, the city said the cover was used to protect the statue during winter, and that it was removed in anticipation of the repair work.

"To see this carry on [so long] doesn't make sense. It's on city property," said Vanier resident Tanya Rowan, who has lived in the neighbourhood for a decade. 

"This entire property is monitored by the city, with city staff, and I don't understand how everyone is comfortable coming in here to work and [bringing] their children in, seeing what's essentially become a hate symbol for everyone."

At the very least, the statue should be covered up again until it's fixed, Rowan said.

In a statement, the city the cover was used to protect the statue during winter, so it was removed in anticipation of the repair work.

A statue on a pedestal covered in a white tarp.
The statue bagged in December 2022. The city says it did that as the statue awaits restoration. (Vanier Neighbours/Facebook)

In a statement to CBC, the city said it remains "fully committed to restoring the statue to its original condition."

The statue is in need of a complete repainting, according to its general manager of recreation, cultural and facilities services.

"Research work into the statue's original design and the hiring of a professional for its restoration has not yet been completed, though we remain hopeful this can be accomplished before winter," Dan Chenier said in the statement.

The city did not explain why it has taken so long to hire that professional. CBC also asked for more information about why the covers came off the statue, but hasn't yet received an answer.

Has historical significance 

The statue reflects both the religious and cultural history of the park, said Diego Elizondo, project officer with the Franco-Ontarian Heritage Network. 

"There (are) not a lot of statues designated under the Ontario Heritage Act in Ottawa and elsewhere in Ontario. The Notre Dame D'Afrique statue is one of them," Elizondo said.

"It is important that the statue is restored to its former glory, because it is one of the most significant elements of the [park's] former religious history." 

A statue of the Virgin Mary that has been painted white.
The vandalized Notre Dame D'Afrique statue on Sept. 16, 2023. Someone painted the statue white in late 2022 — its skin tone is normally a darker brown — and it still hasn't been repaired. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

The statue was first erected in 1955 by the Society of Missionaries of Africa, which used to own the land the park now sits on, according to Vanier Museopark, a local museum dedicated to Ottawa's francophone history.

The priests were known as the White Fathers and chose the Virgin Mary as their patron saint in 1938. In Africa, the Virgin Mary is often depicted with dark skin.

Elizondo said his group would like to see the restoration happen soon, but wants it done right. 

"We wanted to have an expert, someone who specializes in restoration [and] religious art heritage that looks after the statue."

Ottawa police closed the investigation because officers still don't know when the vandalism happened, there was no surveillance video in the area, and there are no witnesses or suspects, the force said in an emailed statement on Monday.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Stéphanie Plante, who represents the area, said Saturday she was unaware the statue hadn't been fixed and pledged to follow up with city staff. 


Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

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