Black Virgin Mary statue painted white in apparent vandalism: city

The face and hands of this statue of Notre Dame D'Afrique in Richelieu-Vanier Park have been painted white. It's unclear when it happened, and the city says plans are in motion to restore the statue. (Buntola Nou/CBC - image credit)
The face and hands of this statue of Notre Dame D'Afrique in Richelieu-Vanier Park have been painted white. It's unclear when it happened, and the city says plans are in motion to restore the statue. (Buntola Nou/CBC - image credit)

The face and hands on a statue of a Black Virgin Mary in Vanier have been painted white in what the city says is an unauthorized act of vandalism.

The Notre Dame D'Afrique (Our Lady of Africa) statue stands in front of the Richelieu-Vanier Centre in Richelieu-Vanier Park along Pères-Blancs Avenue, not far from Beechwood Cemetery.

It was first erected in 1955 by the Society of Missionaries of Africa, which used to own the land the park now sits on, according to Vanier Museopark. The priests were known as the White Fathers and chose the Virgin Mary as their patron saint in 1938.

In Africa the Virgin Mary is often depicted with dark skin, and that was the case with the statue in Vanier until someone recently repainted the face and hands white.

waymarking.com
waymarking.com

The city is responsible for maintaining the statue. In an emailed statement to CBC, the city said it did not authorize the repainting and that it "appears to be vandalism."

Ottawa police and the city's corporate office were notified, and plans are in motion to hire a firm with expertise in restoring monuments.

"Work has since begun to have the statue restored and repainted," said Dan Chenier, the city's general manager of recreation, cultural and facility services, in the city's emailed statement.

"As a contract has not yet been awarded, we do not have a timeline for completion of this work at this time."

Buntola Nou/CBC
Buntola Nou/CBC

The statue's crown, blue robe and general posture all echo the original Black Virgin Mary statue that went up in Algiers, Algeria in the 19th century, said Diego Elizondo, project officer with the Franco-Ontarian Heritage Network.

The Vanier statue was vandalized "many times" before lighting was installed in 1994 to prevent it from being damaged, Elizondo wrote in an email to CBC.

It's protected by a heritage designation, along with other elements of the property it sits on, he said.

After being sworn in as the new councillor for Rideau-Vanier, Stéphanie Plante said the statue isn't the only monument to diverse communities in the area that's been vandalized.

She pointed to when Annie Pootoogook Park was vandalized shortly after it was renamed to honour the late Inuk artist.

"We want to make sure that Rideau-Vanier, because it does include a lot of vulnerable populations, is reflective of the people who live there and that we're preserving our historic monuments," she said

"If the population would like to take that down or rename it, I'm absolutely open to those kinds of discussions. But as far as I know, that's probably another one of many incidents in our ward where people feel like they can be creative with our city infrastructure."