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The Nature Girls by Laura Ford. Photo: Alejandro Bustos.

Take a walk through the art museums of Elgin Street

By Alejandro Bustos on November 22, 2022

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Across Ottawa, on sidewalks, in parks, and next to buildings, are art museums hidden in plain sight. Most people don’t think of public art this way, which is why Apt613 is launching this Art Walks series to highlight outdoor art in the city. We begin with the sculptures on Elgin Street.

The Musicians

In St. Luke’s Park, The Listening Tree by Jesse Stewart and Matthew Edwards combines music and form, as the sculpture’s slotted pipes transform wind into sound.

“The best opportunity to hear The Listening Tree is on a day where the wind is coming from the south, the west, or the southwest, and at a velocity of at least 15 km/h,” says Edwards. “The sounds should be more frequent with stronger winds.”

What makes this piece more intriguing is that it is both instrument and listener.

“It was fundamental to our concept for The Listening Tree that the process of listening is bidirectional: The piece invites us to listen to it and simultaneously listens to us and its surrounding soundscape,” says Stewart.

The Listening Tree from Hazi on Vimeo.

Further north, next to the National Arts Centre, the Oscar Peterson statue honours Canada’s famous jazz pianist who died in 2007. Blending music and bronze, this sculpture plays recordings of Peterson’s music. Technology was key in bringing this statue to life.

“Having music played near the portrait was discussed for Glenn Gould’s portrait in Toronto in 1999,” says artist Ruth Abernethy. “At that time, the technology to have music playing at the site was too limited and for that reason too expensive to include. With tongue-in-cheek, I’d proposed to ‘sculpt Canada’s OTHER finest pianist’ a decade later and had always imagined that visitors could ‘hear Oscar’ while they visited!”

 

The Historian

While I bet nobody has called Montreal-based artist Francis Montillaud a historian before, this description suits him, as his sculptures are a visual history of the community.

Francis Montillaud sculptures. Photo provided by the artist.

Francis Montillaud sculptures. Photo Credit: Liam Olders.

Francis Montillaud sculptures. Photo provided by the artist.

Francis Montillaud sculptures. Photo Credit: Liam Olders.

Francis Montillaud sculptures. Photo provided by the artist.

Francis Montillaud sculptures. Photo Credit: Liam Olders.

“I conducted a series of facial expression interviews and body language exercises in a film studio with volunteers from different communities who live or work in the Elgin Street neighbourhood,” says Montillaud, who spent several months in Ottawa working on this project. “Using footage from these filmed labs, I was able to select expressive participants to cast their faces and create plaster copies.”

The final sculptures, unveiled in 2020, are a product of this collaborative process.

Creating the facial casts for the sculptures. Photo credit: Christopher Snow.

Some of the volunteers who helped Francis Montillaud create his series of sculptures. Photo provided by Francis Montillaud.

“I used 3D printing to cast them in bronze and laser cutting to create the layered sculptures in front of Minto Park. By combining traditional sculpting techniques with new technologies, I was able to create the works,” says Montillaud in a French email. Montillaud’s statues are in four locations: Two in Minto Park, one in Boushey Square, one on the corner of McLeod and Elgin, and one on the corner of MacLaren and Elgin.

Indigenous Artwork

Next to City Hall, on the path that is the continuation of Nepean Street, lies The Lost Child by Inuit artist David Ruben, which reflects his teenage experience of wandering amongst tall city buildings.

The Lost Child sculpture by David Ruben. Photo: Alejandro Bustos.

The Lost Child sculpture by David Ruben. Photo: Alejandro Bustos.

In a handwritten letter to Apt613, Ruben says the meaning of his work has changed over time.

“Thirty years ago, words like ‘urban environment’ did not exist in our daily talk,” he writes. “Looking back, the idea of urban environment and space around the sculpture did not occur to be of any significance. Now as we think and speak, the idea plays a significant part in our cultural habitation and urban sprawl. The perspective of The Lost Child takes on a new meaning, for with population growth and extensive urban sprawl around and beyond our cities, getting lost or being lost is our common reality, and often our regret.”

Meanwhile, in Confederation Park stands the Kwakiutl Totem by the late Kwakiutl artist Henry Hunt, which British Columbia donated in 1971 to commemorate the centennial of its entry into Canada.

Kwakiutl Totem by Henry Hunt. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

“My dad was a great artist and a teacher of his culture and it is wonderful to see his work in such great condition after all this time,” says Richard Hunt, a renowned artist in his own right, about his father. “It is nice that his pole sits in a beautiful setting and continues to be enjoyed. Henry Hunt’s descendants continue his traditions and culture today.”

Also in Confederation Park is the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument by artist Lloyd Pinay of the Peepeekisis First Nation in Saskatchewan. This memorial has a cool feature: All four sides have a person looking straight ahead, so regardless of where you stand, it feels like you are looking at the front.

Abstract Figures and History

Next to City Hall is The Living Room, a surreal work with twisted doors and windows and a quirky TV and chairs. A short stroll away is the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights, the first monument to human rights in the world, unveiled by the Dalai Lama in 1990. Then there is the brilliant Women Are Persons! sculpture and a tribute to the Stanley Cup.

The Diplomats (with a pinch of theft)

In front of the British High Commission are the Nature Girls statues by British sculptor Laura Ford.

The Nature Girls by Laura Ford. Photo: Alejandro Bustos.

“We are proud to have contributed some innovative British art to Ottawa’s urban landscape,” says British High Commission spokesperson Sam Kelly. “Laura Ford’s sculptures have endured 25 Canadian winters and many adventures—including an unplanned excursion to Vanier in 1998!”

About that excursion: Shortly after being unveiled in 1998, Stump Girl (one of the Nature Girls) was stolen, before being found in Vanier a few months later. The (in)famous Nature Girls may be departing again soon, as the High Commission plans to move to Sussex Drive next year.

Stump Girl by Laura Ford. Photo: Alejandro Bustos.

In Minto Park, you’ll find the bust of General José de San Martín, a 1973 gift from Argentina.

“The monument on Elgin Street honours and pays tribute to our Liberator and hero of the Argentine and South American independence,” says Martín Presenza, second secretary at Argentina’s embassy. “In Argentina, he is known as ‘El Padre de la Patria’ (father of the country). He was the liberator of three South American republics: Argentina, Chile, and Peru.”

Bust of General José de San Martín. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The monument is a testimony to the friendship between Argentina and Canada, Presenza adds, as both countries share a progressive vision for their respective societies.

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