On Wreaths and Graffiti: Reading Defacement and Nostalgia at Ottawa Monuments

Active History is proud to present a video each week from New Directions in Active History. The conference took place at Huron University College on October 2-4, 2015 and brought together scholars, students, professionals and community members to discuss a wide range of topics pertaining to active history.

This week’s video marks the last video post from the 2015 Active History Conference. Tonya Davidson, a sociologist of public memory at Ryerson Univeristy, researches the ambivalent feelings Canadians have towards monuments. She explains that although monuments are often dismissed as being “ideological tools of the state”, when something happens at the monument, or to the monument, public attention tends to be “aroused”.  She explains that part of the reason for the public outcry is that we view monuments on the one hand as, “dynamic, live witnesses…to the past”, but we also see monuments as “very active” in the present as well. Davidson goes on to speak about the defacement done to two sculptures on the Parliament buildings by peace protesters in 1985 and explains how the restoration of the vandalism can make us think about the ways in which we can grapple with monuments and multiple histories. Davidson then analyzes two other monuments in Ottawa, the Samuel De Champlain statue at Nepean Point and the Human Rights Monument located at the corner of Lisgar and Elgin. Using these two examples, Davidson explains how monuments can serve as problematic representations of nostalgia and also how they can be political statements with contemporary resonance.

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