Monument honouring women a first for Halifax: ‘This is a big deal’
MICHAEL MACDONALD, THE CANADIAN PRESS
HALIFAX – Of the 280 statues in Halifax, fewer than a dozen show women — and virtually all of them are mythical figures, such as fairies and nymphs.
That is about to change: A project to recognize the contribution to Canada of real women took a leap forward on Friday.
Janet Guildford, chairwoman of the Halifax Women’s History Society, joined CN chairman Robert Pace to announce that the railway has donated $100,000 toward a monument on the Halifax waterfront.
The monument, called “A Woman on the Waterfront,” honours women volunteers during the Second World War.
“In this city, there are no monuments to women at all,” Guildford said in an interview, sitting in the sunshine near the very spot where the monument will be placed.
“I feel this will be the most significant monument built in Halifax in my lifetime — and I’m 70 now. This is a big deal.”
Guildford said the society’s fundraising drive is now past the one-third mark, which means that a call for proposals will be issued to sculptors as early as next week.
Guildford said she has been inspired to get the job done by her three-year-old granddaughter.
“I don’t want to walk along the waterfront with her in a few years and have her say to me, ‘Why are there no women here, Nana?’ It’s really important for people to see themselves in the public art of their communities.”
Aside from the various statues of pixies and elves that depict women in Halifax, Guildford says, there is a bust downtown of Sarah Howard, who is credited with opening the first department store in 1867.
“But that doesn’t count,” Guildford says, as the artwork is tucked inside an office building.
“There has been a tendency, when there are big events, to think of the roles of men,” said Guildford, a retired women’s history professor. “We forget the vital role that women played in every undertaking in our history.”
Still, it would appear there’s been a big change in the past two decades, she said, noting several statues across Canada that pay tribute to women.
A bronze statue in Victoria that honours renowned Canadian artist Emily Carr, a former local resident, was unveiled in 2010.
A statue of Laura Secord, a heroine in the War of 1812, was unveiled in Ottawa in 2006.
And the “Women are Persons! Monument” in Calgary, unveiled in 1999, pays tribute to the “Famous Five” Alberta women who fought to have Canadian women recognized constitutionally as “persons.” A similar monument was erected in Ottawa in 2000.
“There’s some kind of a revitalization of feminism that’s happening. I feel like we’re still fighting many of the old battles … And yet, I think there is hope at this moment for a resurgent women’s movement in Canada.”
The plan is to have the monument installed in front of the Port of Halifax building in time for Canada’s 150th birthday on July 1, 2017.
Karen Oldfield, CEO of the Port of Halifax, said the monument will be in a prime location.
“We have more than one million people a year walking up and down the boardwalk,” she said. “It’s quite a picture-taking spot. It’s exciting because pictures of the statue will be all over the world.”
The bronze monument will feature a realistic depiction of three females from three generations, and one of them will be African Nova Scotian. The figures will be placed on the ground near a busy walkway.
“You’ll be able to walk among them,” Guildford said.