Skip to content

Return of Orillia's Champlain monument deferred' by Parks Canada

'Right now I'm in the mode of listening to people, hearing what they have to say. I think bringing it back as it was before is not an option for me,' says Mayor Don McIsaac

The bronze monument of explorer Samuel de Champlain will not be returning to Couchiching Beach Park any time soon.

Today, Parks Canada announced — for a second time — that the decision has been deferred.

"In consultation with the Huron-Wendat Nation, Rama First Nation and the City of Orillia, as part of the working group established to determine the future of the Monument, the reinstallation of the monument has been deferred," notes the short statement from Parks Canada.

Parks Canada was asked to clarify if there was a timeline associated with the deferral, but they did not provide a response in time for publication of this article.

"At this time, no additional plans have been explored for the figures associated with the monument; however, Parks Canada remains committed to ensuring Canadians have opportunities to learn about the full scope of our history, including Indigenous culture, history and perspectives," the statement explains.

"Parks Canada thanks the members of the working group for their valuable insight and contributions and looks forward to continuing these relationships based on recognizing rights, respect, collaboration, and partnership," concludes the statement.

In an interview prior to today's statement, Orillia Mayor Don McIsaac said the community appears divided on the issue.

“Some want to bring it back, some never want to see it again," McIsaac told OrilliaMatters. "Others are saying bring it back but use it as a storyboard, not in the same format, but to help tell a story.

"Obviously, First Nations have to be consulted here because they're a key stakeholder in whatever happens, and I think at one point Ted Williams said that it was a stick in the eye, so with his background, you’ve got to be really careful how you move forward," McIsaac said. 

“I'm not sure what the status of it is now," he said prior to Parks Canada's statement. 

"I do know that a lot of people looked at it. There’s been a lot of people discussing it. We have the (equity, diversity, and inclusion roundtable), that's something that they should look at and advise us on as well," he said.

“Right now I'm in the mode of listening to people, hearing what they have to say. I think bringing it back as it was before is not an option for me," said the mayor.

The monument was originally removed for repairs in 2017. Since then, it has become a flashpoint of controversy, with some taking issue over its depictions of Indigenous peoples.

A working group was created in 2018, tasked with undertaking “public consultation and to recommend to council and Parks Canada an appropriate path forward for the Champlain Monument that is respectful and representative of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives,” as stated on the city’s website.

In addition to the Huron-Wendat Nation and Chippewas of Rama First Nation, the working group included representation from the City of Orillia and Parks Canada.

In July of 2019, the city and Parks Canada issued a joint news release saying a consensus had been reached by the working group. The result was a decision:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

However, the return of the monument was deferred in August of 2021.

At the time, Parks Canada noted the Huron-Wendat Nation and Chippewas of Rama First Nation have indicated “they are no longer able to continue to participate in the (Champlain Monument working group) process, noting that circumstances around this matter have evolved.”

In a letter to city council, then Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke said those circumstances include “recent discoveries of the remains of children in unmarked graves at a number of former residential schools across Canada.”

“Out of respect for our First Nations partners, city representatives of the working group support Parks Canada’s position to defer the reinstallation of the monument at this time,” Clarke wrote.

-- With files from Greg McGrath-Goudie