With all the controversy surrounding the Monument to the Victims of Communism in Ottawa, another significant addition to Ottawa’s commemorative landscape has been over-looked: the Canadian Building Trades Monument.

Planned for a prominent site in Major’s Hill Park, this tribute to building and construction workers will be one of the first to commemorate work and workers in Canada. Sponsored by the Canada’s Building Trades Unions, the winning design is to be announced shortly.

I attended the public viewing of the finalist’s proposals on December 10, 2015 at the Bytown Museum. Each of the four finalists had their strengths, but I definitely had my favourites.

The most exciting I thought was that submitted by Halifax’s John Greer and Brian MacKay-Lyons. Their submission is a striking evocation of the building trades drawing on the essential tools of plumb, level, and square. Its beautifully designed sunken garden features two enormous plumb-bobs, creating a space that will surely draw people’s attention.

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Also inspired by Rodin’s Burghers of Calais was the dynamic submission by the S/N/L Group (Montreal/Toronto). They took a more realistic approach, with four workers frozen in time in the middle of construction. To be rendered by 3D scanning of actual CBTU workers, I appreciated the presence of a female worker, and more generally, its naturalism. No one will wonder what this is about.

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Breath-taking in its potential to work both day and night, was the submission by Calgary’s Studio West and EXP Services which also took a realistic approach. It is a black granite and limestone crescent shaped space, with a rising steel structure featuring three workers.

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My least favourite was the rectangular structure featuring maple leaves, submitted by Toronto’s Noel Harding and John Hillier. For me it spoke more to national identity than the construction trade and was too reminiscent of municipal structures around the city.

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Visitors to this new celebration of the men and women in the building trades, due to be completed in May 2017, will enjoy a spectacular view of the buildings on Parliament Hill. This is not without its ironies given that the contribution of working people has been almost entirely ignored by the many memorials and monuments on the Hill. You will find no mention of the workers who died during the construction of Parliament’s buildings, nor any tribute to those who laboured to rebuild it in a few short years after the 1916 fire.

The new Canadian Building Trades Monument, whatever form it may take, takes an important step towards celebrating working people in our nation’s capital. And, of course, it took trade unionists to do it.

You can follow the process (refreshingly transparent) at canadianbuildingtradesmonument.ca

In August I was one of some 3,000 historians attending the International Congress of the Historical Sciences meeting in Jinan, China. While I’d been to other congresses this one was special because it was the inaugural meeting of the International Federation for Public History as an internal commission. I was part of a panel on Teaching Public History Internationally which you can read about here. Alix Green has also commented brilliantly about the Congress on her blog. For me, though, it was the fact that I was a public historian in China (Beijing, Jinan, X’ian) during the 70th anniversary celebrations of the end of War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-1945) that was so intriguing. A few days after my arrival banners and photos appeared on the walls of my neighbourhood Beijing hutong, slogans were posted in tube stations and bus shelters, newspaper and television ads promised dozens of documentaries and soap operas, and new exhibits opened up almost daily. Just before leaving Beijing for the congress I stumbled across the dress rehearsal for the massive military parade due to be held on September 3rd when some 12,000 military personnel, tanks, artillery, missiles and aircraft would parade in Tian’anmen Square. I watched it on tv in Xi’an, walked that famous city’s walls and managed to catch a temporary exhibit of veterans’ photographs up for the day, and caught the end of the official state opera. Beijing was back to normal on 4 September, but Tian’anmen Square was still drawing crowds to see the remnants of the spectacle. I’ve chosen not to write a commentary in this blog, at least for now. Instead I offer a narrative through the photographs I took: public history in pictures. Enjoy.

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