There are more than 100 statues, monuments, and cairns in Halifax, but not one is dedicated to a woman or the accomplishments of a group of women.
“We have nymphs and fairies and women from mythology, but not a single full-sized statue that honours women’s place or history in Halifax,” says Mary Somers, a Halifax Women’s History Society volunteer. “Men write history, or have written history, and everybody else is all so invisible.” The society formed in 2013.
American author Robert Fulghum once yearned for the day when schools have all the money they need, and the air force has to have a bake sale to buy a bomber. Not only is there always money to buy the weapons of war, but there always seems to be money to erect monuments to men who send people off to war, too.
Rightly, there are monuments to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, but the first order of business for the Halifax Women’s History Society was to put up a statue to honour the phenomenal volunteer work by women during the Second World War.
“We’re missing in public art pretty much everywhere, but there’s a movement in Europe and North America to end that invisibility,” she says.
The Society fundraised to build its monument, unlike most in Halifax which were erected at public expense. Its $750,000 price tag is eye-opening. The fact that the Society will unveil it in 2017 is a testament to the volunteers’ organizing ability. Much like the women the monument will honour, the Halifax Women’s History Society did a stellar job moving the project along.
A nation-wide search for a female sculptor is underway, and the society is already reviewing 10 proposals. It expects to unveil the winning design in March.
The Port of Halifax donated land on the Halifax waterfront next to another monument called The Immigrant. The Society will call its monument The Volunteers/Les Bénévoles and dedicate it to the unheralded women who were the backbone of the war effort.
“There was an absolutely huge volunteer effort,” says Somers. “Halifax was really about volunteerism during the war.”
Somers say volunteers and servicemen had an estimated 52 million encounters at social events like dances and softball games, or something as simple as having a serviceman over for Sunday dinner. Woman also provided medical care, ran blood donor clinics, and sold war bonds to make up for the federal government’s failure to accurately assess the great demand the war effort would put on the community.
The final design decision is still months away but the statue is expected to include three figures: a young adult woman, an African-Nova Scotian woman, and the third might be a child.
“We thought it was very important that we include representation from the black community,” Somers says. “They were very involved in the war and that’s never really been recognized.”
CN, which helped transport servicemen and supplies for the war effort to Halifax, provided a major boost to the project this summer with a $100,000 donation. An anonymous donor also gave $100,000, pushing the Society to almost half its fundraising goal. It wants to unveil the monument in November and is “actively fundraising with some good prospects,” says Somers.
The Society collected countless small donations and anyone who wants to pitch in can do so through at halifaxwomenshistory.ca. Somers says every little bit helps.
Anyone can join this volunteer-run group. A lifetime membership costs $25 and helps fund operating expenses. When the Society finishes the monument, it will carry on, organizing lectures and conferences. So far, though, the monument is like a first newborn: daunting and a lot of work, but ultimately so rewarding.
“It’s a huge task,” says Somers. “Much bigger than any of us ever realized and there’s all of the little jobs that have come out of the blue and the hidden costs.”