News

Monument a tribute to local First Nations history

By Cathy Pelletier, special to Postmedia News

Stone carvers from Smith and Barber Sculpture Atelier work on the 22-tonne First Nations Peace Monument at the DeCew House Heritage Park in Thorold on Tuesday. The completed monument will be unveiled during a ceremony on Oct. 7. (Julie Jocsak/St. Catharines Standard /Postmedia News)

Stone carvers from Smith and Barber Sculpture Atelier work on the 22-tonne First Nations Peace Monument at the DeCew House Heritage Park in Thorold on Tuesday. The completed monument will be unveiled during a ceremony on Oct. 7. (Julie Jocsak/St. Catharines Standard /Postmedia News)

The solid base forms a strong foundation to support a spirit of peace, which will be symbolically represented in the sculpture’s coming layers.

A crew has been working steadily in DeCew House Heritage Park in Thorold assembling 22 tonnes of carved stone to form the First Nations Peace Monument, designed by renowned Siksika Blackfoot architect Douglas Cardinal, and initiated by the Friends of Laura Secord.

“It was so exciting when the stone finally arrived for this amazing monument last night,” said Friends president Caroline McCormick on Tuesday.

Acting as senior adviser to the Friends, Tim Johnson pronounced the monument “esthetically beautiful and powerful,” as well as “a demonstration of real action and commitment.”

Johnson is the former associate director for museum projects at the Smithsonian Museum, where he worked on various projects with Cardinal, and solicited his help in designing the monument.

“The symbolism that’s inherent within this is primarily the two wampum belts,” both of which are peace belts, said Johnson.

One is the Haudenosaunee peace belt, which signifies the formation of the Six Nations; the other symbolizes the belt that British government representative William Claus gave to Six Nations members after the War of 1812, about 1815, he said.

“I think that as an action, it delivers on the Truth and Reconciliation (Commission) report. I think it’s quite significant. There’s a lot of talk about this, but for Thorold to support this, it shows that Thorold has a lot of integrity in recognizing the contributions of First Nations peoples who were allies. Thorold is providing real leadership here, that I think needs to be recognized,” Johnson said.

At the Sept. 19 Thorold city council meeting, councillors voted unanimously to contribute $5,000 towards the monument, Mayor Ted Luciani told a small gathering of people at DeCew House Heritage Park on Tuesday.

“I think it’s going to be absolutely fantastic,” he said. “Oct. 7 will be a really great day for a lot of First Nations folks.”

A ceremony is planned that Thanksgiving weekend Saturday to unveil the monument, featuring First Nations entertainment that will include a women’s singing group and seven generations of songs, from ancient traditional tunes to contemporary modern blues, the latter performed by Fort Erie’s Pappy Johns Blues Band.

Cardinal and other special guests will attend, and there will be historical displays as well.

There will be no parking at the site, but free two-minute shuttle bus rides will escort visitors from Niagara Region’s nearby parking lot.

“Everyone is invited to the opening ceremony, and we encourage everyone to come out and see this fantastic monument,” said McCormick.

Regional Chairman Alan Caslin expressed gratitude to Cardinal for donating his time and waiving his fee to design the monument, and spoke of its purpose in commemorating “the vital importance and history of the First Nations people across Niagara.”

Caslin said the park, located at the terminus of the Laura Secord Legacy Trail, is approximately “where the First Nations warriors guided Laura Secord,” so she could inform British officers of U.S. invaders during the War of 1812.

Her warning enabled British and First Nations forces to mount an offensive that resulted in a defeat of the Americans, arguably changing the course of Canadian history.

Instead of merely re-telling the familiar but very incomplete Eurocentric narrative of Laura Secord’s famous trek, according to Friends of Laura Secord, the monument reveals the central role of the Haudenosaunee and other allies in the pivotal Battle of Beaverdams, fought almost entirely by warriors from Lower Canada (Quebec), the Grand River and other Indigenous forces who took on the numerically dominant and better armed Americans in defence of Canada.

“Because of all the history here, there is this bedrock of information that makes it easier to bring out the history that has long been hidden, and make it available to the public,” said Johnson.

In the future, said McCormick, “We will be further enhancing the educational aspect, so visitors can learn more using their smartphones.”