Existing memorials may lack mainstream embrace

·2 min read

The toppling and beheading of a Winnipeg statue erected in the likeness of Queen Victoria has sparked widespread debate about defacing colonial monuments.

But in the wake of vandalism, one academic has been far more focused on who is missing entirely from the inventory of statues on the Manitoba legislature grounds.

"In general, we’re talking about settlers of one kind or another — and typically, European settlers. (The roster) certainly doesn’t represent Manitoba in this moment," said Melissa Funke, an assistant professor of classics at the University of Winnipeg.

Indigenous erasure and white supremacy have been encoded in both the legislature building and surrounding statues, said Funke, who has researched the influence of the classic world on the grounds.

Ionic columns and pediments in the structure itself are nods to Greek and Roman architecture. In 1913, at the time the building was being constructed, leadership in Winnipeg wanted to draw parallels to ancient civilization — and in turn, colonization — because the Manitoba capital was expected to become a major city, or "the Chicago of the north," said Funke.

"It’s very essential that as Manitobans, especially as Manitobans in 2021, we understand how the classical world is used — and misused — in representations."

Carved into the east side of the legislature building is an installation of a man wearing a feathered headdress and a Roman soldier, separated between a war chest.

To pair a romanticized mythological figure alongside a nondescript Indigenous man is problematic in it suggests they are both equally historic, said Funke, noting the latter is the only Indigenous representation in the external architecture of the building.

Notably, there are no bronze statues of Inuit or First Nations leaders at 450 Broadway. The only Métis representation pays tribute to Manitoba’s founding father, Louis Riel.

There is currently a campaign underway to erect a memorial for Chief Peguis on the grounds, to pay tribute to the Saulteaux chief who was known as a defender of First Nations rights and a key signatory of the Selkirk Treaty of 1817.

Given many of the existing memorials symbolize values that are no longer embraced in mainstream Manitoba, Funke said she sees no reason why the statue of Queen Victoria should go back up anytime soon. In fact, she said it is worth considering the ancient practice of damnatio memoriae: the condemnation of Roman elites who were deemed unworthy of praise after their deaths to preserve a city’s honour.

The practice, which involved both removing and at times, burying statues, was not about forgetting history, she said, but about collectively saying a figure no longer reflects societal values.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press

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