Skip to content

LETTER: It's time to bring Champlain 'home where he belongs'

'Removing the statue of the 17th-century explorer does not change the more recent history. It does nothing to make amends for the grievous damage done to First Nations,' says letter writer
champlain monument gourlie
The Champlain Monument, before it was removed, is pictured. Jack Gourlie photo

OrilliaMatters welcomes letters to the editor at [email protected] Please include your daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). The following letter is in response to several recent letters about the fate of the Champlain Monument, which was removed for restoration purposes from Couchiching Beach Park several years ago,.

We can all agree that the imprisonment and genocide of Aboriginal children in residential schools is an unforgivable horror. Those responsible must bear the eternal shame.

The sordid truth, now literally being unearthed across the land, will haunt our nation for generations.

No words of condolence or heartfelt apologies can right the wrongs of the past.

History can be buried or ignored, but it can't be changed.

If the statue of a French explorer, who lived centuries before the sinister decimation of First Nations, is perceived as a direct or implicit sanction of those horrors, that is most unfortunate.

And an argument can certainly be made for protecting those who might take offence.

But removing the statue of the 17th-century explorer does not change the more recent history. It does nothing to make amends for the grievous damage done to First Nations. Would that it was that easy.

So how do we deal with history, and where does Champlain fit in? His place in the history of Huronia as an ally and admirer of the indigenous population is well established.

But his bronze monument is also part of the history of Orillia.

Erected in 1925, it stood for almost a century, an astonishing work of art and an awe-inspiring landmark in our community.

Did city officials in the early 1900s who envisioned the monument and brought it into existence set out to slight or demean Aboriginals?

Did they see the European priest and trapper standing above seated native figures as a representation of cultural dominance?

I don't know. I was always impressed by the handsome and muscular men relaxing in the sun, perhaps bemused by the rather stiff and over-dressed European visitors.

We don't dismantle Mayan pyramids because of their history of human sacrifice. It was a different time. A different world. We take that into consideration.

And it was a different time when the magnificent 12-foot-tall explorer with a cape and a feathered cap was erected on the shore of Lake Couchiching.

Would the design the city unveiled with such pride before thousands of spectators pass muster today? Probably not. But was there any insidious intent in the creation of the monument? Hardly.

It was another bold achievement for a forward-thinking community which had already built its own hydroelectric system and developed one of the earliest motor cars.

The monument should be seen as an expression of the period of its conception. Not an assault on the more enlightened present.

Additional commentary recognizing the legitimate concerns of the monument's detractors could easily be added to the site.

A treasure in itself, art can also open people's eyes and make them think. That's a good thing.

It's time to bring Champlain back home to where he belongs.

Colin McKim