With all the controversy surrounding the Monument to the Victims of Communism in Ottawa, another significant addition to Ottawa’s commemorative landscape has been over-looked: the Canadian Building Trades Monument.
Planned for a prominent site in Major’s Hill Park, this tribute to building and construction workers will be one of the first to commemorate work and workers in Canada. Sponsored by the Canada’s Building Trades Unions, the winning design is to be announced shortly.
I attended the public viewing of the finalist’s proposals on December 10, 2015 at the Bytown Museum. Each of the four finalists had their strengths, but I definitely had my favourites.
The most exciting I thought was that submitted by Halifax’s John Greer and Brian MacKay-Lyons. Their submission is a striking evocation of the building trades drawing on the essential tools of plumb, level, and square. Its beautifully designed sunken garden features two enormous plumb-bobs, creating a space that will surely draw people’s attention.
Also inspired by Rodin’s Burghers of Calais was the dynamic submission by the S/N/L Group (Montreal/Toronto). They took a more realistic approach, with four workers frozen in time in the middle of construction. To be rendered by 3D scanning of actual CBTU workers, I appreciated the presence of a female worker, and more generally, its naturalism. No one will wonder what this is about.
Breath-taking in its potential to work both day and night, was the submission by Calgary’s Studio West and EXP Services which also took a realistic approach. It is a black granite and limestone crescent shaped space, with a rising steel structure featuring three workers.
My least favourite was the rectangular structure featuring maple leaves, submitted by Toronto’s Noel Harding and John Hillier. For me it spoke more to national identity than the construction trade and was too reminiscent of municipal structures around the city.
Visitors to this new celebration of the men and women in the building trades, due to be completed in May 2017, will enjoy a spectacular view of the buildings on Parliament Hill. This is not without its ironies given that the contribution of working people has been almost entirely ignored by the many memorials and monuments on the Hill. You will find no mention of the workers who died during the construction of Parliament’s buildings, nor any tribute to those who laboured to rebuild it in a few short years after the 1916 fire.
The new Canadian Building Trades Monument, whatever form it may take, takes an important step towards celebrating working people in our nation’s capital. And, of course, it took trade unionists to do it.
You can follow the process (refreshingly transparent) at canadianbuildingtradesmonument.ca