Many communities, be they municipalities, clubs, professions or companies, saw fit to commemorate members of the community who served or died in WW1. The Canadian Pacific Railway was one such company. The Angel of Victory by Montreal sculptor Coeur de Lion MacCarthy commemorates 1,115 CPR employees killed during the war. Three castings of the bronze statue were dedicated from 1921 to 1923, at the CPR stations in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Montreal. The angel lifts the soldier to heaven at the moment of his death.
A sentimental image, but what is its merit as public art? In a 27 July 1963 column in the Ottawa Citizen, Carl Weiselberger denounced it:
It is that monument showing the limp body of a dead soldier complete with puttees, hobnailed boots, lifted by an angel (or is it victory?) – a kind of Canadian Valkyrie, carrying a Canadian soldier into a kind of Canadian Valhalla. It’s the worst kind of candy art applied to a great human drama, a desecration of art and taste to such a degree that a super-sensitive passenger might flee from the station to take the nearest bus …
Robert Shipley, in his 1987 book To Mark Our Place: A History of Canadian War Memorials, argues on the other hand that “the primary function of memorials is the visible expression of grief at the loss of fallen soldiers.” (p 111) The artist or craftsperson “has to work from a given repertoire of forms that will inspire within the viewers the emotional intent of the memorial.” (p 109)
The Vancouver statue has seen better days. The angel’s wreath is broken. A protective patina thought to be dirt was removed with wire brushes in the 1960s. An attempt to remove a graffiti peace sign on the plaque left its evidence behind. Moved from a more prominent location on Water Street, it is now blocked in part by a bar patio. (A follower of this blog who once was in the military notes that the soldiers would likely appreciate being in the pub!)
A City of Vancouver archives photo shows the statue in better condition on its original site.
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May 14, 2018 at 21:52
Carl Weiselberger got it utterly wrong. I ( an Aussie with an interest in such things) found it among the most moving war memorials I’ve ever seen.
May 15, 2018 at 15:26
Thanks for dropping by, Chris. I think Weiselberger’s comment is best seen in the context of art criticism of the time (1963). Shows how views of both art and remembrance can change.
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