Sparks Street makes room for Lord Stanley

Matthew Lee, Centretown News

Matthew Lee, Centretown News

The grizzly bear statue will be replaced by the Stanley Cup monument if a local committee has its way.

Ottawans can finally be sure of the future location of a monument to Lord Stanley – and the trophy that famously bears his name.

But the announcement has raised unexpected controversy as well.  Last week, hockey fans and history buffs alike learned that the corner of Sparks and Elgin streets – already home to a piece of civic art – will eventually boast a statue commemorating the former Governor General whose contribution to hockey was immortalized with the donation of the Stanley Cup in 1892.

“Our objective is to do something that really ought to have been done a long time ago,” said Paul Kitchen, president of the not-for-profit group behind the project, at the press conference to reveal the location.

However, the announcement has met with some backlash, especially from Tamaya Garner, the widow of sculptor Bruce Garner.

His bronze grizzly bear statue, Territorial Prerogative, now stands at the end of the Sparks Street Mall and will have to be moved to accommodate the new monument.

She says she wasn’t informed that her husband’s work would be displaced and has publicly criticized the decision.

“Before offering up the Grizzly’s spot, the Sparks Street Mall Authority could have called and written to me,” she said, in an emailed statement. “We could have worked together.”

Garner has said that she’s still willing to negotiate a move with the city, but won’t commit either way, adding that Sparks Street would benefit from more public art, not less.

“I realize now that this is not just about moving one of Bruce’s sculptures,” she said. “It’s really about how artists are perceived and treated.”

Although the city did propose a handful of other locations for the Stanley Cup monument, including a plot at Major’s Hill Park and the plaza adjacent to city hall and the Rink of Dreams, its advocates ultimately chose the Sparks Street spot for its historical connection to the cup.

“We wanted the location to have a relationship to the event that is portrayed,” Kitchen said. “So the fit was perfect.”

The Russell Hotel, where the idea for the trophy was first conceived, once stood directly across the street from the location.

The announcement came 121 years to the day since Lord Stanley’s offer to donate the cup for the region’s hockey teams, just metres away from the entrance to the Sparks Street Mall. However,

Kitchen made it clear that the cup’s historical connection to the city shouldn’t lessen the monument’s meaning to visitors.

“We like to think of it as a national monument in a local setting, rather than a local monument in a national setting,” he said.

Mayor Jim Watson, on hand for the announcement, said that although the competition to select a design for the monument has yet to be announced and money for the statue still needs to be raised, things are moving forward.

“We pride ourselves on being known as a hockey country,” he said. “I can’t think of a better location than to have (the statue) right here.”

Plans for the memorial were first set in motion four years ago, when Kitchen, a hockey historian, came up with the idea. The concept quickly gained support, when members of the city’s hockey community formed a committee to move the project forward.

The monument will be officially unveiled in 2017, a year that the council deemed significant in part for its ties to the anniversary of confederation.

Several board members joined Kitchen at the announcement, including Murray Costello, former vice-president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, who addressed the cup’s international reach and its appeal to young players across the globe.

“Somebody said to me this past week that this should’ve been done 50 years ago,” Costello said. “We may be 50 years late, but we’re going to try and do it right.”

He also hints that the design competition itself may stir some controversy.

Although the organizers have described the contest as Canada-wide, Kitchen says that they may extend it to artists from across the globe as well.

“The Stanley Cup is an international trophy,” he said. “Players from many countries play for it, so why not open up the competition?

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a Russian artist or a Finnish artist came forward with a design? That would be a compliment to us. It shows that this country, and the game, are important to people elsewhere.”