Statue honouring 225 years of parliamentary democracy in Quebec barred from federal historic site

Parks Canada says Montmorency Park is a historic site set aside only to commemorate the Parliament of United Canada, but former Quebec MNAs point out for a much longer period, it was also the site of the legislatures for Lower Canada and Quebec.

Parks Canada wouldn't allow statue commemorating Quebec's first lawmakers in Montmorency Park

A statue to mark the 225th anniversary of parliamentary democracy in Quebec now stands in front of the Quebec National Assembly, not on the original site of the Lower Canada Assembly, as retired MNAs had hoped. (Kevin Dougherty/CBC)

The location of a newly inaugurated statue commemorating 225 years of parliamentary democracy in Quebec has set off a controversy.

The federal government's Heritage Canada paid $215,000 to make a life-sized version of Le député arrivant à Québec, a tabletop statue by Quebec sculptor Alfred Laliberté that's been on display in Quebec's National Assembly since the 1930s.

However, another arm of the federal government, Parks Canada, has refused to allow the statue to be erected in Montmorency Park — the cannon-studded site overlooking the St. Lawrence River that was the seat of government for Lower Canada, now Quebec, for more than six decades.

The Montmorency site is off limits for Laliberté's statue, insists Parks Canada.

Parks Canada says Montmorency Park is a historic site, only to commemorate the 25-year existence of the Parliament of United Canada, setting off a controversy with former Quebec MNAs, who point out the site has a longer history as the site of legislatures for Lower Canada and Quebec. (Kevin Dougherty/CBC)

Parks Canada has designated Montmorency Park as a historic site "where the Parliament of the Province of Canada would meet," explained Caroline Thériault, media attaché to Catherine McKenna, minister responsible for Parks Canada.

The Parliament of the Province of Canada, composed of Canada East (Quebec) and Canada West (Ontario), existed from 1841 to 1866.

National Assembly site 'a consolation prize'

So the statue representing Quebec elected members stands, instead, in front of the Quebec National Assembly, looking "like a consolation prize," said Gaston Deschênes, a retired National Assembly historian.

The Montmorency site is important for parliamentary democracy in Quebec, but not just for the brief period of pre-Confederation United Canada, Deschênes told Radio-Canada.

"Not only is it where our first parliamentarians of Lower Canada sat, from 1792 until 1838, but also where our first parliamentarians of Quebec as a province sat from 1867 to 1883," he said.

"A lot of people do not know the parliament sat there."

It was only in 1883 that the Quebec assembly moved to its present location.​

Home to United Canada Parliament for just 9 years

The Parliament of United Canada moved around over its 25-year existence, Deschênes noted, sitting in Kingston, Montreal, Toronto, as well as Quebec City, between 1841 and 1866.

The Parliament was at the Montmorency site from 1852 until 1854 and again from 1859 to 1866, for a total of nine years.

Despite Parks Canada's insistence that Montmorency Park is solely to commemorate the Parliament of United Canada, the site, which recently marked its 410th anniversary, also has statues of historical figures of New France, long predating the designated period.

And it is dominated by a statue of St. François de Montmorency Laval, the first Roman Catholic bishop of Quebec.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard is a direct descendant of Guillaume Couillard, who arrived in New France in 1613 and became one of the colony's first farmers. Statues of Couillard, Louis Hébert and Marie Rollet, early settlers, share the Montmorency Park site. (Kevin Dougherty/CBC)

Retired MNAs left dismayed

Former members of the Quebec National Assembly, who proposed the commemorative statue, favoured the Montmorency site, because that is where the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada first met in 1792 and continued to meet until 1838.

They are disappointed with Parks Canada's ruling.

"I think it's ridiculous," said Rita Dionne-Marsolais, a former Parti Québécois minister and current head of the Amical — a friendly, non-partisan society of former MNAs.

"I don't know why they did that."

"For Quebecers it's an important event, 225 years for democracy in Quebec," Dionne-Marsolais said.

"In a period where  democracy is being challenged, or manipulated, it's important for us as former parliamentarians to identify with democracy, to promote democracy," she said.

Jacques Chagnon, outgoing Speaker of the Quebec National Assembly, officiated at the inauguration of the statue with federal  Family Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, who represents a Quebec City riding.

Chagnon said he believes the statue will one day be moved to the Montmorency site.

"That's not impossible," retired historian Deschênes said. "But I doubt it a lot."

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