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Wednesday, 30 November 2022

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Culture news > Monument to Ukrainian folk hero unveiled

EMC News - No doubt there hasn't been this much excitement in Ottawa's Ukrainian-Canadian community since that country claimed its independence from the Soviet Union 20 years ago.

The occasion was the unveiling of a monument to Taras Shevchenko, the iconic poet and artist who urged Ukrainians to love one another even as he urged them to throw off the shackles of their foreign oppressors and throw the usurpers out.

More than 1,0000 Ukrainian-Canadians and community supporters came out on Sunday, June 26 to view the unveiling on the grounds of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Shrine. Under cerulean blue skies with the golden-hued sun above creating a backdrop of Ukrainian national colours, the monument, eight years in the works, was revealed.

Dead some 150 years now, Shevchenko is as alive now as he ever was when he walked the earth - just ask a Ukrainian anywhere in the world.

Revered as a hero for overcoming serfdom and exile and for encouraging Ukrainain nationalism at a time when it was dangerous to do so, Shevchenko is considered the founder of the modern written Ukrainian language.

Ambassador of Ukraine to Canada Dr. Ihor Ostash remarked to the EMC when Ukrainians first immigrated to Canada to settle this country more than a century ago, they would bring with them their few belongings, some favoured embroidered cloth and a copy of Shevchenko's Kobzar. The book - comparable to Shakepeare for non-Ukrainians - contains poems many Ukrainians can recite by heart, thanks to Saturday morning classes at Ukrainian school.

The unveiling also marked 120 years of Ukrainian settlement in Canada as well as the 20th anniversary of Ukrainian independence. After the unveiling of the monument, a blessing was conducted by Most Rev. Stephen Chmilar, Bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada, Bishop Andriy, Vicar of the Central Eparchy, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, Rev. Fr. Cyril Mykytiuk of the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Shrine, Rev. Ihor Okhrimtchouk of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Westboro and Rev. Fr. Maxim Lysak of the Christ the Savior Orthodox Church, among others.

A ceremonial tree-planting was held immediately after, with soil from Shevchenko's grave in Ukraine dug into the earth at the base of the oak sapling.

The monument was a dream that Orest Dubas has worked on for at least the past eight years. A former Montrealer, Dubas attended an unveiling of Shevchenko in Winnipeg in 1961, while his father attended one in Washington, D.C. in 1964. That statue, unveiled by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower before a crowd of more than 100,000, is a towering, 14-ft. bronze statue which now sits on Embassy Row.

In both cases, the monuments were created by world-renowned Ukrainian-Canadian sculptor Leo Mol, who also sculpted monuments of the Ukrainian poet in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Prudentopolis, Brazil. Mol, born Leonid Hryhorovych Molodozhanyn, was a renown sculptor and Order of Canada honoree.

Mol, who died in 2009 and never saw the installation of his final major work, was known for using a revised version of the "lost wax" process, a century-old process rarely used in Canada. A costly, time-consuming process, this technique involves sculpting a Plasticine model over an armature, then creating a plaster mould into which molten bronze is poured, replacing the wax it has melted.

Sadly, his widow, Magareth, who donated the statues which now stand in Ottawa, died Monday, June 27.

The central monument, sitting on a granite base approximately 8.5 metres high, holds a young version of a standing Taras Shevchenko. Dressed in a long coat, the fashion at that time, he holds a palette and three paintbrushes and looks out into the distance. The figure is 3 m. high and weighs 630 kgs.

Three shorter bases hold artistic creations from his poetry. One of the bas-relief figures, standing 1.2 m and weighing 156 kg., represents Haydamaky, an epic poem of Shevchenko's about the Cossack paramilitary bands that rose up against Polish nobility in right-bank Ukraine in the 18th-century.

The next, Kateryna with child (1.2 m, 163 kg), recalls his early ballad about a Ukrainian girl seduced then abandoned by a Russian - symbolic of the tsarist imposition of serfdom in Ukraine.

The last, Banduryst (1.2 m., 156 kg), referencing the Kobzar and bandura, a traditional Ukrainian stringed musical instrument shaped like a lute.

Nearly 90,000 kg of Stanstead grey granite was used to create the bases for the monument.

"This event is one that brings Ukrainians from all walks of life together. It's sort of like community building, much like Shevchenko himself did," said a beaming Bohdan Tymyc. The owner of Yevshan Communications, a catalogue and mail-order house, arrived from Montreal to witness the event.

"As an author, he has a tendency of bringing everyone together and reminding the people who they are and how one brother should always love another brother."

A gala concert was held after the ceremony, featuring the 50-member Canadian Bandurist Capella of Toronto, Ottawa-based Svitanok Dance Ensemble and Yaroslav Dzhus, bandurist and finalist of Ukraine has Talent contest, as well as other choirs and performing groups well-known to the Ukrainian-Canadian community.

It will also be where the collections materials are ordered for all of the city's 33 library branches, and where distribution is controlled.

Sixty OPL staff will call the building home every workday.

Ottawa West-Nepean MPP and Infrastructure Minister Bob Chiarelli, representing the province of Ontario, thanked the "devotees of heritage" in the room who provided much-needed community leadership throughout the building procurement process.

In the years-long search for a solution to the old Archive's space problem, workers and historians had to endure much uncertainty, the former Ottawa mayor said.

"You will remember - those of you who were involved in heritage - that the original archives were in the old city hall on Sussex, and we ended up as a new city having a short-term lease on that space. I think we received eviction notices at least four times while we tried to find the solution that we see here in this building."

Chiarelli gave credit to Deputy City Manager Steve Kanellakos for his crucial input in finding sites and keeping the lease going until an appropriate location was found. He also thanked Georgina Tupper and all other historians for their inspiring devotion to the preservation of the area's heritage.

No one knows the challenges faced by the OPL better than Barrhaven ward Coun. Jan Harder, who serves as chair of the Ottawa Public Library board. She attended along with City Librarian Barbara Clubb.

"The council of that day understood how important our archives are to us, they understood the dillema we had which Mayor Watson and Mr. Chiarelli described... we knew we had to do something about it, and fortunately we had an opportunity come forward," said Coun. Harder.

"I remember when the opportunity came again to include the library's technical services. In our city every week, your Ottawa Public Library moves 70 tonnes of products and materials around the city.

"We're shipping it all over the place. It just so happens you're standing in the geographic centre of our great city - it's another way of being efficient and providing better service to you."

She described the "rocky relationship" that initially existed between the library crew and the archives crew - a relationship that quickly grew warmer due to mutual understanding of the importance of history and written word.

College ward Coun. Rick Chiarelli, whose ward the new building sits in and who was involved in the process to find a home for both departments, joked that the beginning of the resolution to the problem started when Bob Chiarelli was mayor, and Jim Watson was an Ontario cabinet minister. It ended, he said, when Jim Watson was mayor and Bob Chiarelli was an Ontario cabinet minister.

"This is a wonderful addition to a growing community," he said. "The new Archives and Library Materials Centre is the most recent addition to a list of projects our ward has seen. This includes the new pedestrian bridge linking our new construction trades building to the main Algonquin College campus, the new Baseline Transitway Station, the Navaho Drive overpass, the expansion of Centrepointe Theatre, and everyone's favourite - we did a ribbon cutting for this - the opening of the sanitary sewer on Indian Road.

"The archives...are accessible to anyone with a keen interest for history. With classroom and workshop space, more reference and consultation space for researchers, as well as access to modern research tools, the Central Archives can become a hub of culture and learning."

Bay ward Coun. Mark Taylor, chair of the Community and Protective Services committee, spoke to the crowd about how history is reflected in a culture's art. He also introduced the public art commissioned by the city to adorn the building grounds.

'Archive' by Don Maynard, is essentially a stainless steel house floating twenty feet off the building's front plaza, tethered by steel ropes and boulders to 'prevent' it from flying away.

"This iconic sculpture...speaks to the challenge of collecting and sharing our shared memories and histories for future generations, lest they fly away just like the house threatens to," said Coun. Taylor.

The work is the latest example of art commissioned by the city's Public Art Program, established in 1985.

Two ribbon cuttings then took place - one to officially open the new building, and the other to recognize the sculpture.

The public as a whole will have a chance to tour the building and its grounds on Saturday, July 9, when the city is hosting an Open House from noon until 4 p.m.