Sparks flew among city councillors Monday night over a proposal to install a donated statue of a firefighter in front of Whitehorse City Hall.
Susan Velder, a former Whitehorse resident who now lives in Saskatchewan, has offered to donate a 7.5-foot-tall bronze statue called “Fire Fighter.” It will cost the city $12,500 to have it delivered from Calgary and installed.
It cost about $110,000 to make, Velder said Tuesday from her home in Saskatchewan. The statue is to honour firefighters and the memory of Roy and Jean Jamieson and Velder’s late husband, Anton Peter Velder.
The town of Vermilion, Alta., originally commissioned the statue to honour all firefighters, but cancelled the contract before the piece was finished, said Velder. She wanted to donate the piece, and thought it would make a good tribute to the Jamiesons and her late husband. Whitehorse firefighters first became interested in the statue about two years ago, she said.
Last week, city administration recommended council approve the donation and install the statue in the planter in front of city hall along Second Avenue. Council approved accepting the donation by a vote of 6-1. But councillors didn’t agree city hall was the right spot for it.
The whole proposal is just burning through cash, Coun. Dave Stockdale told council. He was the only one to vote against the donation, which he called a “nice gesture.”
“I am not supportive of this at all,” he said, calling it a “waste of taxpayers’ money.”
Placing it in front of city hall would elevate firefighters above other city departments, he said. “We have other people who do great service in the community, and I don’t know why we should be recognizing one particular group,” said Stockdale.
Other councillors echoed his thoughts.
“It just does not seem to be the place to put this statue,” said Coun. Betty Irwin. Any statue of this size next to city hall speaks to Whitehorse’s identity, she said. It would be better placed by one of the fire halls, she said.
Coun. John Streicker tried to cool the situation by proposing council amend the resolution to only approve accepting the statue. This will allow time to discuss other locations.
The amendment passed by a vote of 6-1, but not before Mayor Dan Curtis passionately defended the city’s firefighters.
The only proper site for the statue is in front of city hall, he said.
“I can’t think of a better place,” said Curtis.
There are a lot of people who do good things for the city, like doctors, nurses and police officers. And they all deserve statues, he said. But they’re not city employees.
“They (firefighters) are our heroes and they belong to the city of Whitehorse,” he said.
And the city needs to honour them, said Curtis.
“We should respect them, acknowledge the brave men and women that are risking their lives to protect us,” he told council.
“When I was a kid, I wanted to be a fire truck, I didn’t want to be a firefighter.”
City administration will look at other site options and bring proposals to council at a later date.
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