Amid the attempts to revise Winston Churchill’s legacy and recast him as a monstrous figure, an organization in Calgary is forging ahead with a plan to erect a statue of Britain’s wartime prime minister in the city next year.
Churchill visited Alberta in 1929, and while Edmonton honoured him with a statue and a downtown square in his name, Calgary has no statue, and the Sir Winston Churchill Society of Calgary wants to change that.
“The other major city in Alberta—Edmonton—has long had a Churchill statue, and in the spirit of friendly rivalry, we thought it long overdue to honour Churchill who did so much to save Western civilization from Adolf Hitler and the Nazis,” says Mark Milke, the president of the society.
But the main reason for pursuing the project, Milke notes, was a high school debate the society hosted on the question of whether Churchill statues should be taken down and the resulting debate resolution.
“The Churchill Society of Calgary sponsors high school debates with hundreds of very bright students every year. A few years back, one debate resolution—and I paraphrase—resolved that Churchill statues should be taken down due to his ‘views.’ The students meant well. The resolution was proposed because statue attacks were then in the news and they wanted something topical to debate. But the resolution was poorly worded to assume thoroughly odious views on the part of Churchill,” he said in an interview.
“That was one spur for the local Churchill statue project but also a wider initiative where we wanted to place historical figures such as Churchill in proper context. The vast majority of Churchill’s life and accomplishments was unarguably positive.”
Through donations, the organization aims to raise $300,000 for the statue and ongoing maintenance and another $200,000 for a speaker series, according to its website. $150,000 has been raised so far. The organization will soon commission the sculpture, seek approval from the city, and work with the city on placement, the goal being to have the statue installed in a prominent public area by Aug. 24, 2021, the 92nd anniversary of Churchill’s visit to Calgary.
The effort is concurrent with Churchill being a prominent target of anti-racist activists who see him as a symbol of British imperialism and a racist. Earlier this month, the famous statue of Churchill in London’s Parliament Square was defaced by protesters. It was subsequently boarded up by authorities, and his granddaughter, Emma Soames, said it might have to be placed in a museum in order to protect it if the demonstrations continue.
Soames told the BBC that there’s a tendency in contemporary society to view history “entirely through the prism of the present,” noting that her grandfather had often held views which “particularly now are regarded as unacceptable but weren’t necessarily then.”
Milke says that while we need to be honest about historical figures and their flaws and virtues, their lasting achievements must also be considered, especially in contrast with their counterparts.
“It’s one thing to lobby for the removal of statues of southern Confederate generals who fought to defend slave-holding states—they were anti-freedom and tyrannical,” he says.
“It’s quite another to demand the removal of statues of men like Churchill whose basic premise and direction was liberal and who defended liberal democracies and freedom from tyrants including Hitler.”
During riots in recent weeks in the United States, mobs have taken down or targeted statues of former presidents like George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Abraham Lincoln. One group wants to tear down the Emancipation Statue in Washington, which was paid for by freed slaves and honours Lincoln for ending slavery, while some Black Lives Matter activists have now set their sights on statues of Jesus.
Milke says the hatred that has sprouted against Churchill “springs from ignorance” and the aim with the Calgary statue project is to put the spotlight on his many achievements—not just his wartime leadership but beyond.
“We hope to inform a new generation about who Winston Churchill was and why he matters to the free, open, and better world we live in today,” he says.
The two-time prime Minister who guided Britain through the Second World War spent a three-month vacation in Canada and the United States in the summer and fall of 1929. In Alberta he visited the oilfields and Banff, and reportedly fell in love with the Rockies.
Andrew Roberts, the prominent British historian and author of the widely acclaimed biography “Churchill: Walking with Destiny,” says Churchill had a deep connection with and love for Canada and it’s fitting that Canadians proudly celebrate and pay tribute to him.
“The only place that Churchill ever spoke of retiring to—apart from his home in Kent—was Alberta, such was his love of the province and its sense of boundless possibilities,” he said in an interview.
“It is fitting that the greatest champion of liberty of the 20th century should be commemorated in such a magnificent way in Calgary, and particularly at a time when deliberate attempts are being made to misinterpret and besmirch his legacy.”
Roberts describes Churchill as “a man who insisted on the equality of all races before the law throughout the Empire throughout his career, who put his life on the line many times to defend the indigenous populations of the Empire, and who defeated and destroyed history’s worst racist, Adolf Hitler.”
“Churchill adored Canada, and it is wonderful to see Canadians return the tribute.”