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A tale of two statues

In the course of my wanderings around Toronto, I have come across two very different statues with British connections, both of which have graced this fair city since the Sixties and which were installed amid some controversy.

Toronto’s civic authorities are housed in the very striking building that is City Hall, which was built in the Sixties and consists of two curved towers surrounding a council chamber that looks like a flying saucer (despite being almost fifty years old, it still looks really modern in a cool kind of way that most Sixties tower-blocks never achieved; these towers, by the way, are depicted on the city flag). In front of this is a large bronze sculpture that is unmistakably the work of Henry Moore (1898-1986). Three Way Piece No. 2 (The Archer), better known simply as The Archer, weighs 2½ tons and is in Toronto thanks to Viljo Revell, the architect of City Hall, who had won the international competition to design the new building and who in the early Sixties approached Moore with the suggestion that one of his works would complement the new building.

Moore agreed, and a suitable design was chosen from among his maquettes (the small models that he made before starting work on the big sculptures), but the proposal to purchase the work with public money became hugely controversial and was vetoed by the city council; the money was eventually raised by private subscription and it was unveiled in 1966. Touched by this gesture of public support, Moore donated over 200 sculptures and drawings to the Art Gallery of Ontario; these formed the basis of the AGO’s Henry Moore Sculpture Centre, the largest public collection of Moore’s work in the world.

Over in Queen’s Park, by contrast, is something a little more traditional – an equestrian statue of King Edward VII. This feature, which is located in the northern section of the park and constantly seems to attract the attention of passers-by wondering who the guy on the horse is, was never intended for Toronto and is in fact there almost by an historical accident – even though it depicts the man who (when he was the Prince of Wales) opened the park, Toronto’s first, in 1860.

The work of Sir Thomas Brock (1847-1922; his most famous work is the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace), this 1919 five-ton masterpiece of imperial pomp was originally unveiled in Delhi to commemorate the 1911 Delhi Durbar at which his son, George V, was officially proclaimed Emperor of India (in return, he announced that Delhi would henceforth replace Calcutta as the capital of India).

It survived Indian independence for almost two decades – presumably while the Indian government figured out what to do with it – before being taken down in 1967 and given to the City of Toronto. The man behind this move was the then Governor General of Canada, who had previously been the Canadian High Commissioner to India, although a private art collector had to come up with the money to have it shipped to Toronto, where the same city authorities who’d had to deal with the controversy over the Moore sculpture now had to decide where they were going to put what must be one of the most impressive re-gifts in history. This was not without its own controversy due to the the statue’s rather obvious colonial overtones; some said that the money that would need to be spent on installing it would be better spent on melting it down and commissioning a local artist to use the bronze to make something a bit more emblematic of modern Canada, while one wag suggested it could be made into a climbing-frame.

After both the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario turned it down, the well-travelled statue was re-erected in the park to the north of the Provincial Legislature in 1969, over a century after the man it depicts had opened the park.

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