Orillia’s Champlain Monument was proposed by Mr. Charles Harold Hale, publisher of the Orillia Packet newspaper and community advocate, following a trip to Quebec and St. John, New Brunswick, where monuments to Champlain also exist in connection to those cities.
The piece was created by Mr. Vernon March of Farnborough, Kent, England, and commissioned to mark the 300th anniversary of the French explorer’s arrival to the region in 1615. The work was delayed due to the war, unveiled a decade later on July 1, 1925, in front of roughly 10,000 spectators. Dignitaries included the Honorable Rodolphe Lemieux, Speaker of the House, along with Vernon March, the sculptor, Grand Chief Ovide Sioui of the Hurons at Lorette, now the Huron-Wendat of Wendake, Chief Big Canoe, and John Bigwind of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation.
Ownership and maintenance of the monument, together with the area of land 10 feet all around upon which it sits, was transferred to the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources in 1955.
In 2015, Parks Canada conducted a full condition assessment on the piece as a result of growing concerns associated with the steps and plinth. The current restoration project is the result of that assessment and includes repairing the staircase and plinth along with conservation work on the statues. Phase 1 and 2 have been completed and Phase 3 is underway. The foundation and staircase have been reconstructed on the original site however, reinstallation of the sculptures has been put on hold.
At its meeting held on July 19, 2018, City Council received correspondence from Parks Canada that the federal agency will be placing the project on hold after receiving concerns over the monument’s representations of Indigenous peoples raised by members of the public and by Indigenous communities. They have asked Council to establish a joint working group with key partners and stakeholders to pursue consultations and to develop a plan for the monument and surrounding park lands that presents a balanced and respectful representation both Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives.
Over the course of eight (8) months (from October 2018 to June 2019), the Samuel de Champlain Monument Working Group conducted extensive and inclusive consultations that involved workshops, an online questionnaire, one-on-one meetings with subject experts, and background research. Below is the Working Group’s Final Report and Recommendations, reached after careful consideration and research, and representing a consensus of its members.
Key recommendations include:
- That the Samuel de Champlain Monument be re-installed with only the central figure of Samuel de Champlain atop the plinth and that this installation occur immediately.
- That the First Nations figures along with the figures of the Fur Trader and Missionary be the subject of further consultation with First Nations. It is the hope of the Samuel de Champlain Monument Working Group that future work, with the aim of re-imagining their presence in the immediate vicinity of the original Monument, will result in a meaningful and concrete example of Reconciliation.
- That the text of the original Monument’s “in-set plaque” be updated so that it will honour the original intent within the context of contemporary knowledge and wisdom.
- That additional interpretive signage/pieces be developed and created with the participation of First Nations representatives to tell a historically accurate story of Samuel de Champlain and his relationship with First Nations.
The report was forwarded to Parks Canada and was endorsed in full. Steps to re-install the central figure of Samuel de Champlain will begin immediately while further consultation with stakeholders about the plaque text and the other figures will take place later this year. For more details, download Parks Canada’s news release in English or French.
- Champlain measures 12ft tall
- Champlain is dressed for court, with cloak, long boots, spurs, plumed hat and sword
- The plinth is of Benedict Stone, cast in situ, from Montreal and weighed 45 tons
- The entire monument weighed over 100 tons
- The tomahawk is an exact replica of the one in the British Museum
- The piece was budgeted at $20,000 but the delay added $14,000 to the project, primarily due to inflation of the price of bronze