Hon. Serge Joyal:
Honourable senators, since today is the International Day of La Francophonie, I’d like to invite you to pay tribute to a great Canadian sculptor from Saskatchewan. The Franco-Saskatchewanian Joe Fafard, Canada’s most famous contemporary sculptor, passed away on Saturday.
You might ask yourself: Who was Joe Fafard? Well, senators, he is the artist who produced the six stunning life-sized cows that were placed, in 1986, in the courtyard of the Toronto Dominion Bank Square in Toronto. At the time, it was almost a scandal; why would someone dare place six cows in the middle of the financial district of Toronto, so far away from the peaceful life of the countryside where such animals usually spend their lives?
But was such a site not, in fact, the perfect place for those cows: to remind financiers and all urban dwellers that aside from the rapid pace of business activities, we should not forget that we cannot bypass the rhythm of nature that links us to the human condition?
Who was Joe Fafard? He was born in 1942 on a small farm in Sainte-Marthe-Rocanville, on the border between Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Joe Fafard’s family came from the Bois-Francs region of Quebec and had migrated west 50 years earlier. As a child, Fafard showed a natural talent for drawing and sculpture. He started modelling clay portraits of his family and the world around him at a very young age, depicting his parents’ farm and livestock, the cows, calves, pigs and horses that made up his world.
He realized early that his animals in clay had to be cast in bronze to survive, given the harshness of the Canadian climate, but with no foundry nearby, he started his own foundry on land he bought in Pense, west of Regina. He lived in Saskatchewan his entire life and became well-known for his life-sized animals, expanding his surprisingly realistic works with busts of well-known people on the Canadian scene: sculptures of the Queen, John Diefenbaker, Pierre E. Trudeau, Jean Chrétien, and of the famous painters Van Gogh and Picasso, among others.
The first sculpture I saw by Fafard was in the early 1980s, in a private collection in Montreal: a bust of young Prince Charles, almost in caricature form, an almost kitschy sculpture. The retrospective of his work organized in and held at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1996, and another at the National Gallery here in Ottawa in 2007, brought national attention to his horses and famous cows, painted in various colours representing the different breeds, and allowed him to be internationally renowned.
I had the privilege of meeting him in 1995, when I was asked by a friend to commission an unusual work. I asked Fafard, “You have done a lot of cows, but what about a big bull? After all, without a bull, there can be no real herd of cows,” to keep them happy, as Senator Mercer would have said. He asked what I meant. I said I wanted a bull in bronze, monument-sized, to be placed in a field so that people would be mystified to see a monument of a bull alone, eating grass.
He prepared a template in Styrofoam to determine the outline, profile and size of a Hanoverhill Starbuck bull. The enormous sculpture was shipped from Saskatchewan to Quebec on a flatbed train, as it weighed more than two tonnes. We had to have a concrete base poured to prevent the bull from sinking into the ground, specifically given the spring thaw. Later, the sister of former Prime Minister John Turner wanted to also have a similar bull placed on her farm in the Eastern Townships. Fafard cast one, but in a different colour.
There is a powerful lesson to be learned from Joe Fafard’s tremendous contribution to Canadian culture. You may be born and live your whole life in French on a small farm in Canada, out in the middle of nowhere, but your talent, language and cultural identity will always shine through.
Let us offer our heartfelt condolences to Joe Fafard’s family.