A statue of famed wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill will soon grace downtown Calgary, a gift from The Sir Winston Churchill Society of Calgary.
In partnership with the province, the Churchill statue will be unveiled next spring on the south lawn of McDougall Centre, the provincial government’s southern Alberta home base. It will join another sculpture at McDougall Centre that also memorializes Second World War sacrifice, the Airman Memorial Statue.
The Churchill statue is now being bronzed. At 1.5 times Churchill’s height, it’s a work of art created by famed Edmonton sculptor Danek Mozdzenski, whose past work includes sculptures of former Alberta lieutenant-governor Lois Hole, jazz musician Clarence Horatio Miller and Alberta suffragist Nellie McClung.
We’re pleased to loan this new work of art to the people of Alberta in perpetuity. And all Canadians should commemorate Churchill. He was not only the 20th century’s most critical statesman but one who cherished the beauty and potential of Alberta.
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Without Churchill’s ascension to the prime ministership of Great Britain in May 1940, over the objections of those who wanted that country to negotiate a treaty with Nazi Germany, the postwar world would have looked starkly different. Europe would have been divided between the murderous regimes of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, Asia would have been largely conquered by and subjected to imperial Japan, and democracies that survived would be relatively tiny islands of freedom in a world of tyranny.
Our wartime alliance with Britain is one reason we should commemorate Churchill in Calgary. But there is also a more local reason: in August 1929, Churchill spent a month in Canada and was enamoured with Alberta’s majestic scenery, which he later memorialized with several paintings.
After disembarking at the CPR train station in Calgary on Aug. 24, 1929, Churchill spoke to an overflow crowd of 750 people at the Palliser Hotel.
When the politician-journalist-author first glimpsed the Canadian Rockies, he pronounced them “glorious.” Later, while at Lake Louise, Churchill described it as a “truly enchanting scene,” a sentiment he repeated at Banff, Emerald Lake and Radium. He would write to his wife Clementine that the Rockies were “Twenty Switzerlands rolled into one.”
Churchill also visited Turner Valley, where Alberta’s oil industry was just getting started. He saw the potential of Alberta’s oil industry while frustrated by the lack of support for it in London.
While at Turner Valley, Churchill’s son Randolph complained about the hellish-looking industrial vista and derided local oil men for “their lack of culture.” But Churchill, who well knew that entrepreneurs must first create an economy from which the arts can later be funded, retorted that “Cultured people are merely the glittering scum which floats upon the deep river of production.”
According to Eastern Illinois University’s Bradley Tolppanen, who chronicled the 1929 visit, Randolph thought his father’s retort was “damn good.”
In 2022 we must confront reflexive critics who argue we shouldn’t celebrate historical figures given their views don’t perfectly align with ours. That’s an impossible standard: future generations will no doubt critique some of our 21st-century beliefs.
Churchill was a man of his time and ahead of it. He advanced early 20th-century social reforms such as a minimum wage for garment workers, unemployment insurance and pensions. He opposed the unjust treatment of the Muslim minority in India and anti-Semitism everywhere. During the war, Churchill flatly refused the American military’s request that the British segregate black and white soldiers in British establishments.
Churchill’s many accomplishments contributed to a freer, more flourishing world, and he admired all things Albertan. That’s why The Churchill Society of Calgary is delighted to donate this work of art for all to view soon.
Mark Milke is president of the Sir Winston Churchill Society of Calgary. For more information about the Churchill statue project, see www.churchillcalgary.ca.
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