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Champlain Monument could return this summer: mayor

Statue likely to return, but additional components still in the works; 'All the history needs to be included — the good, the bad and the ugly,' mayor says

Orillia’s mayor is hoping to see the Champlain Monument return to Couchiching Beach Park this summer, but plans are still up in the air.

Mayor Steve Clarke is a member of a working group that also includes representation from Parks Canada, Chippewas of Rama First Nation and the Huron-Wendat Nation.

Parks Canada spokesperson Karen Feeley did not say when the monument — which was removed in 2017 for restoration and repairs — is expected to be returned, but she did note the working group has been meeting to determine next steps, “including developing new interpretative text and a plan for the other bronze figures.”

“The work of this committee has been affected by COVID-19. However, we continue to move forward with our discussions,” she said.

Clarke said he believes the statue of Samuel de Champlain will return to its original spot by itself and that the working group is still trying to determine what to do with the other components of the monument, including the fur trader, Récollet priest and Indigenous figures.

The group will meet again soon, and Clarke expects those additional components, including new interpretive pieces, will be discussed at that time.

The history of Indigenous peoples in the area “needs to be reflected,” he said.

“The advent of colonialism also needs to be put into some of these interpretive pieces,” he said. “All the history needs to be included — the good, the bad and the ugly.”

One suggestion Clarke said has come up during working group discussions is to have some of those additional pieces placed in various spots along the trail system leading to the ancient Mnjikaning Fish Weirs at the Atherley Narrows.

Orillia is a signatory to a grant application Rama First Nation has submitted in an effort to get a pedestrian bridge built at the Narrows. That project would include interpretive elements, Clarke said.

“That could very well inform the direction we go,” he said, adding there isn’t necessarily a rush to get the additional components in place.

A previous working group came up with a number of recommendations, which can be found here.

Feeley said the group has “determined that the most appropriate and respectful approach to the implementation of these recommendations was to ensure that they were completed holistically.”

“As such, the reinstallation will be aligned to ensure the implementation of the recommendations which honours the past within the context of contemporary knowledge and wisdom.”

She said the base of the monument will remain fenced off “to ensure public safety” and that Parks Canada staff “will continue to visit the site regularly to clean up the vegetation within the fenced area.”

The future of the monument has been a contentious issue. After it was removed, some people spoke out against its return. Demonstrations were held at the park on Canada Day in 2019 and 2020.

In June 2020, the base of the monument was vandalized with red paint.

In July 2020, Simcoe North MP Bruce Stanton spoke with Parks Canada to see if it was reconsidering the timeline for returning the statue. Part of his concern was related to the growing controversy around the world of monuments of historical figures.

Shortly after, Parks Canada issued a new release stating it was deferring the monument’s return “to allow for additional progress on the implementation of the Samuel de Champlain Monument Working Group recommendations.”

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Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is the desk editor for Village Media's central Ontario news desk in Simcoe County and Newmarket.
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