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GTActivity: Monument to Multiculturalism

Union Station lies at the very heart of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), but many residents may not realize that this well known statue, outside the station on Front Street, is called Monument to Multiculturalism.

The station is the busiest transportation facility in Canada, serving over 250,000 passengers a day. Most of those passengers are from the GTA – Halton, Peel, York and Durham regions as well as Toronto itself.

The GTA covers an area of over 7,000 km2 and has a population of over 6 million people.1 Approximately half of those people were not born in Canada, and approximately half of them (not the same half) are not of European heritage.

Monument to Multiculturalism was designed and produced by Italian sculptor, Francesco Perilli, and donated by the Italian community in 1985 to celebrate Toronto’s sesquicentennial. 

Toronto/the GTA is considered to be one of the most multicultural communities in the world. It is this diversity that Perilli’s statue celebrates. A plaque at the foot of the statue tells the story of Canadian multiculturalism by citing Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s (our current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau’s father) Official Statement on Multiculturalism, given in the House of Commons in 1971:

“…there cannot be one cultural policy for Canadians of British and French origin, another for the original peoples and yet a third for all others. For although there are two oficial languages, there is no official culture. Nor does any ethnic group take precedence over any other.”

Why did the Toronto Italian community want to celebrate Toronto’s sesquicentennial by also celebrating multiculturalism?

During the 1960s, a history of unequal treatment of the Francophone population in Canada came to a head with a growing nationalist movement in Québec. In 1963, Prime Minister Lester Pearson established the Royal Commission on Biculturalism and Bilingualism (Bi and Bi Commission) to try to establish more equal relations between the Francophone and Anglophone populations – often referred to as the two ‘founding’ nations of Canada.

The Bi and Bi Commission’s work on biculturalism quickly became controversial. Indigenous peoples also considered themselves to be a ‘founding’ nation of Canada, and other immigrant communities wondered why, if Canada was to have two cultures, couldn’t their culture also be represented?

The Prime Minister’s Official Statement, cited above, was the resolution. Canada would have two official languages, but “no official culture.” It became the first country to openly recognize the rights of all of its diverse populations, and it did so just five years after the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), where Article 27 deals with the rights of minorities “in community with other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.”                     

Multiculturalism became a part of the Canadian Constitution in 1982 when the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms pointed out that, “Article 27 of this Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.” And multiculturalism became part of Canadian law in 1988 with passage of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act.

The Italian community raised the funds for the Monument to Multiculturalism in recognition of, and in gratitude for the fact that their community gained equal recognition under the Canadian Constitution.

Now, Canadians routinely cite their multicultural population and their system of public health care as two of the things they admire most about Canada.

[A subsequent GTActivity blog post will examine the criticisms of multiculturalism, and some responses to those criticisms.]

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Sometimes, our use of the term multiculturalism becomes more limited. We have heard the word being used to refer just to people who were not born in Canada; and even to refer to non-white people (as if white people had no culture?).

GTActivity begins with the foundational view of multiculturalism – Canada has “no official culture” and all cultures, and physical cultures, expressed in Canada are a part of Canadian multiculturalism. We expand that sense of plurality in the GTA beyond ethnic groups to include, for example, gay and disability cultures, and specifically the physical cultures produced and practiced in the communities.

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Note:

1. The City of Hamilton is also often included, and referred to as the GTHA. This increases the population to more than 6.5 million people, and the area to over 8,000 km2.

Further reading:

Shaun Merritt (2009). Monument to Multiculturalism. Spacing Magazine, March 20: http://spacing.ca/toronto/2009/03/20/monument-to-multiculturalism/