Wolfe rises on anniversary of his death
Major General James Wolfe’s story will come back to life on Sunday, Sept. 13, with the unveiling of a unique piece of art at South Mount Royal Park in the southwest part of the city.
You may recall this impressive likeness of Wolfe; from 1967 until 2000, the statue watched over downtown Calgary’s development from a place of prominence in front of the Calgary Centennial Planetarium.
Wolfe never actually visited Calgary, of course, dying on the battlefield at the Plains of Abraham exactly 250 years ago, on Sept. 13, 1759.
In charge of the Louisbourg Grenadiers, Wolfe held fire until the French, under the command of Montcalm, were only about 40 metres away.
In the ensuing battle, Wolfe sustained three gunshot wounds — they proved fatal. Montcalm met a similar end that day as well.
The statue of Wolfe came to Calgary in time for Canada’s centennial as the result of a most peculiar chain of events.
Scottish-born sculptor J. Massey Rhind crafted four large bronzes for display at the Exchange Court building in New York in 1898. Until the 1940s, these 3.2-metre-high statues of Henry Hudson, Peter Stuyvesant, George Clinton and James Wolfe graced the building.
In the 1950s, the first three found a new home in Academy Green Park in Kingston, New York.
But the Wolfe statue came to Calgary. In 1966, Eric Harvie paid $8,000 — more than $50,000 in today’s currency — and in 1967 donated the large bronze to the city as part of the centennial celebrations.
Eric Harvie is the Calgarian who made so much money off the petroleum industry after the Second World War, and in turn gave generously to cultural facilities from his amazing wealth.
His penchant for collecting things from all over the world is best viewed at the Glenbow Museum, Library and Archives.
Harvie also helped fund the Luxton Museum in Banff, the Calgary Zoo, Heritage Park, the Devonian Gardens, the Banff Centre School of Fine Arts and numerous other cultural facilities.
Luckily, the spirit of giving is also exhibited by living Calgarians today.
The plinth to support the statue in its new location was generously donated by Margaret and Robert Montgomery.
Montgomery had attended the unveiling of the statue in 1967 and recently got wondering what had happened to the bronze. He eventually tracked it down, forgotten in storage in southwest Calgary.
“We’ve got to find a place for Wolfe,” he decided last year, and the quest for an appropriate venue was on. It didn’t really fit at the Military Museums or along Memorial Drive, both of which commemorate military events since the Boer War.
When the city suggested South Mount Royal Park, Montgomery realized it was perfect. Surrounded by Wolfe Street, Montcalm Crescent and Quebec Avenue, it fits right into history.
The Calgary Garrison of the 78th Fraser Highlanders helped out with the project, too, moving Wolfe to his new location in the park and covering the costs of installing him on the plinth.
The statue itself is today part of the Public Art Program collection that belongs to the people of Calgary. It’s nice to see our art being displayed in this way.
So wander down next Sunday to South Mount Royal Park and hear Montgomery tell the story about this interesting statue. Turn east where 27th Avenue S.W. crosses 14th Street S.W. and go a block to get to the park.
The festivities start at 10:30 that morning. After a parade and speeches, the laying of wreaths, music and a demonstration of musket firing, the Mount Royal Community Association will be serving refreshments.