New Ottawa monument features Stanstead Grey
On Sunday, June 26th, a crowd of over one thousand which included Senators, Members of Parliament, embassy representatives and Canadians of Ukrainian descent, gathered for the unveiling of a beautiful monument at the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine, in Ottawa.
The monument was in honour of Taras Shevchenko who was a Ukrainian poet, artist, nationalist and a major figure in the Ukrainian national revival. It was designed by the famous Ukrainian-Canadian sculptor Leo Mol, who died in 2009, before he could witness the installation of this tribute, one of many that he created, to the Ukrainian folk hero. Mr. Mol spent eight years creating the work.
The local connection of this story is that the monument, which consists of four separate sculptures, sits on four immense Stanstead ‘Grey’granite towers which, together, weigh more than one hundred tons. “We built four granite towers – one for each statue. The main tower, the one for the poet, was built with six granite cubes, each four foot square, and stood twentyfour feet high,” explained Kelly Conn of Rock of Ages Canada, where the towers were built. The three smaller towers hold artistic symbols from Shevchenko’s writing: the “Kateryna” figure which represents a Ukrainian woman left with a child by a Russian soldier; the “Bandurist” figure of a folk musician; and the “Haydamaky” statue based on the peasant uprisings.
According to Mr. Conn, the original design called for a metal frame clad with thin granite for the towers, however, the contractor said that solid granite would be more stable and visually more appealing. “What was nice about this project was that it got the architects away from granite cladding; our temperature changes can create issues with cladding whereas solid granite is permanent,” said Mr. Conn.
The project was initiated by Ottawa resident, Orest Dubas. “Mr. Dubas came to Stanstead with a couple of architects to tour our facility and approve the drawings at the end of April, and then we got started,” said Mr. Conn who had to visit the site in Ottawa a couple of times to “do some fine-tuning to make sure the towers fit well.”
The project was a challenging one. The granite company had to cut fifteen huge blocks of granite for the four towers, the blocks ranging in size from roughly four by four foot square to rectangles of roughly seven by eight feet by 3 feet. On top of that, the original specification drawings for the monument were drawn by hand instead of by computer, by retired architects who were likely volunteering their time for the important project. “What was special about this project was the size of the pieces and that they needed to be joined together. The angles needed to be cut to precision; we used a contour wire saw. The blocks also had to be stacked so there was no room for error. Differences of ¼ inch can be tolerated in this industry – but not for this monument because the pieces had to fit together,” explained Mr. Conn. The blocks were all finished with a ‘steel finish’ which made the stone lighter in colour so the inscriptions would stand out more.
“The only downside was that we were sawing blocks of granite with a block saw which is not a high precision instrument. So once the pieces were cut, we had to do a lot of handling of the pieces, a lot of grinding. It was a very time-consuming process right in our peak season and difficult to coordinate in the shop. To meet the deadline we had to finish one piece per day and each piece had to be turned four times. For the last four weeks before the deadline we were working overtime and on weekends to get it done,” he added.
The specifications for the installation of the monument called for Stanstead Grey, a granite which is
well-known in Ottawa. “For us it was an awesome project because it was an example to the engineering and architectural communities of how a permanent structure should be constructed: using solid granite rather than cladding. That’s how our ancestors built structures,” concluded Mr. Conn.
The finished monument was unveiled in Ottawa at the end of June in front of a crowd of over a thousand. The installation of the memorial was timed to coincide with the 120th anniversary of the first Ukrainians coming to Canada.
Kelly Conn (left) and Rejean Gauthier (right), both of Rock of Ages, look on as architect Derek Crane inspects a block of granite to be used in the monument.
Workers painstakingly place the last block of
granite at the site.