The Liberal prime minister who famously declared the 20th century would belong to Canada will soon be sharing a corner of Parliament Hill with a new Conservative government monument to the 19th century.
As part of a nearly $30-million spending binge to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, the Tories are erecting a memorial to the long-ago conflict that pitted the United States against what would later become Canada.
In a call for bids to design the monument released Tuesday, Ottawa unveiled plans to situate it just metres from a statue of Wilfrid Laurier, the seventh prime minister.
The 1812 edifice should dwarf the Liberal politician’s likeness, judging from sketches unveiled by the federal government. The selected site measures about 50 square metres.
There are already at least 17 statues and commemorative structures on Parliament Hill, including the Centennial Flame. As a result, its landscape – apart from the sprawling front lawn – has grown cluttered with memorials.
The Harper government has made drawing public attention to the bicentennial of the 1812 conflict a major public policy goal, on the grounds it was a defining chapter in Canada’s history. The Conservatives have long been intent on restoring military exploits to a more central role in this country’s national identity.
A 2011 survey conducted for Ottawa found Canadians know relatively little about the conflict, and eagerness to learn more about it drops off outside Ontario, where a significant number of the battles took place.
The War of 1812 saw the inhabitants of what is now Canada frustrate American attempts to overrun their territory, although British troops arguably did much of the work.
Nevertheless, the monument sought by the Harper government in Ottawa would focus on the role played by local militias and aboriginal people.
“[It] will be a tribute to the courage and bravery of those who successfully defended their land – the English and French speaking militias of British North America … First Nations, and Métis allies who together assisted the British Army and Royal Navy,” the bid document says.
The National Capital Commission is dropping hints about what it would like to see an artist conceive – suggesting it wants to avoid abstract or modernist designs.
The call for applications points out the planned site is just metres from the East Block of Parliament Hill – “one of the finest international examples of the Gothic Revival architectural style” – and is deliberately situated in direct view of the National War Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Valiants memorial: 14 busts and statues commemorating what are described as courageous figures in Canada’s history.
“This link with other military commemorations was an important factor in the final choice of the site,” the government says in its bid document. “The views to and from the National War Memorial must be taken into consideration.”
Furthermore, instructs Ottawa, “[The monument] must complement the heritage and architectural character of Parliament Hill where monuments have generally been representational and realistic in nature.”
The Tories have set a relatively modest budget for the 1812 monument: $780,000. That’s significantly less than the $2-million the federal government was reported to have spent recently on an Ottawa-based monument to honour the Royal Canadian Navy.
The deadline to be considered for the job is Oct. 22. A jury of five professionals, including an artist, a historian and a Department of Canadian Heritage official, will then pick five finalists and their ideas will be delivered as formal pitches in March, 2013.
The government wants the artwork ready to be installed at the Parliament Hill site by August, 2014, to be officially unveiled by October of that year. That’s around the time the Conservatives plan to wrap up their multiyear commemoration of the 1812 conflict.