Editorial: When Is Sam Coming Back?

By John Swartz

A persistent question many people have is about when the Champlain Monument will be re-installed. If one relies on what Parks Canada initially said about the timeline for fixing the base and putting him back on his perch, the job would have been done last year.

But, some people took the absence of the statue elements (particularly the two side pieces) as an opportunity to rectify an injustice to people of First Nation’s heritage. While there is strong opinion of the depiction of the Indians in the side pieces, there is differing opinion within the First Nation community on what to do about it ranging from never re-install it to create some additional art to educate and correct the record, and what appears to be lopsided opinion from just about everyone else without a status card to just put it back – with scant acknowledgement there is an issue.

Champlain Monument 2016
Champlain Monument 2016

As can be expected of bureaucracy, Parks Canada being caught in the middle is dithering on their commitment to return the statue. They haven’t said no, but instead threw the mess back to us to work things out – ‘us’ being The City of Orillia and First Nations communities.

It should be noted the strongest opposition to returning the statue is not coming from Rama, but from other First Nation communities. In fact, the folks in Rama have been working on a solution to compliment the monument in its entirety with an additional art installation.

The City and Rama have been in discussion for a long time on a solution and resolution seemed to be imminent a few times. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario put up $25,000 to partially fund corrective measures.

What is holding things up is Parks Canada not being convinced there is community agreement (all communities involved) how to proceed. To that end, there is an online survey being conducted by the Samuel de Champlain Working Group right now. You have until April 30 to take part. However, The working group believes people should hold off adding their two cents until they are armed with some basic information and hear the arguments from all sides. A series of workshops are being held in coming weeks for that purpose.

Champlain Monument 2016
Champlain Monument 2016

Those workshops happen March 19 at the Leacock Museum’s Swanmore Hall from 10 a.m. to noon; April 11 from 7 to 9 p.m. at a location to be determined (this editorial will be updated when a site is chosen); and April 13 from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Tournament Room at Rotary Place. It will be helpful to RSVP.

Also on the webpage is a nice rundown of established facts about the monument and the restoration process, though issue can be taken with one line, “The two sculpture groupings are meant to emphasize Champlain’s role in bringing Christianity and Commerce to New France.” It is more likely Étienne Brûlé (at Champlain’s direction) played a pivotal role in that regard because Champlain was not in this area long enough to have much effect.

In this time of extreme opinions at opposite ends of a spectrum getting all the spotlight, let’s hope cooler, reasoned approaches carry the day and the monument is re-installed soon – with an asterisk in the form of an additional installation to give context to the ancient history of First Nations and the more recent history of the 1920s era prevailing thought when the monument was conceived and erected. There is a wonderful teaching moment to realize which should not be squandered in favour of banishing Sam to a store room.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)


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