Laurier statue project strife continues

22 statues will be placed on Laurier’s Waterloo campus, but not without opposition.

Photo by Jess Dik
Photo by Jess Dik

The controversy continues surrounding Wilfrid Laurier University’s Waterloo campus’ newly unveiled Prime Ministers Statue Project.

The project, which was originally proposed for and rejected by the City of Kitchener, was announced earlier this summer by university administration.

The first statue, that of former Prime Minister John A. McDonald, was unveiled in July, with the remaining 21 statues set to be erected over the coming years.

The project proved controversial at Laurier when a PhD candidate at Western University voiced his objection to the project at the unveiling, on the grounds of its content running contrary to the Waterloo region’s cultural heritage and diversity.

Another voice has been raised in opposition in the form of a petition created on by one of Laurier’s own faculty members, Jonathan Finn, chair of the communication studies department.

“I was familiar with the debate when it was proposed for the City of Kitchener, and was shocked, to put it quite mildly, that it came to Laurier, in the way that it did, that there was absolutely no discussion,” said Finn. “Other people I spoke to, students, staff, alumnae, were equally as shocked, so I thought why not, I’ll start a petition.”

The petition, titled ‘Stop the Statues Project,’ states that the project is lacking in artistic merit and runs counter to the cultural diversity of the Kitchener-Waterloo region.

The primary issue Finn raised is the lack of involvement offered to the Laurier community prior to administration having agreed to house the project, with the decision made independently by the president and board of governors.

“Maybe when the students get back, an overwhelming majority say yes we want it. But the point is, that discussion should take place before this statue project was ever decided on.”

Similar to the concerns voiced at the project’s unveiling, the topic of cost was raised once more, with continuing questions surrounding the actual burden the university has undertaken to install and maintain the pieces.

“We’ve just come out of a year where we’ve been told that we’re in a very bad financial situation, that we need to ask people to retire early, that we need to lay-off and fire people,” said Finn.

“So to then turn around and bring in a very controversial project without any discussion, a controversial artistic project, without any discussion, seems a very peculiar choice.”

Despite Laurier president Max Blouw hopes that the statues will attract visitors to the campus as a discussion piece, and act as a possible destination for elementary field trips.

This concept  was additionally  viewed as an unnecessary addition to campus life.

“This sounds a lot like the mouse project in Toronto, and they’ve been done in different cities the world over to varying degrees,” said Finn. “But those are all tourism initiatives, and we’re not a theme park.”

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