Concordia’s Place Norman Bethune finally taking shape

By P.A. Sévigny on October 30, 2008

After years of discussion, assorted arguments, endless urban planning and a lot of construction, a statue raised to honor the memory of Dr. Norman Bethune, a hero of the Chinese revolution, will be located at the heart of one of the city’s more successful urban design projects.

After the statue was cleaned and restored to its former glory, the city moved its stele to its new location near the northern edge of the square where it was recently unveiled. The brief ceremony included Canada’s former Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson, His Excellency Lan Li Jun, China’s ambassador to Canada, Concordia vice-rector Judith Woodsworth and Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay. 

“As a doctor, a scientist, an inventor and a tireless fighter for social justice, Doctor Norman Bethune defined his life and times with his innovative spirit and his devotion to the poorest of the poor,” said Tremblay.

Historians agree how Bethune’s work among the city’s poor during the depression had much to do with Bethune’s sympathy for the poor and his socialist politics. During the 1930’s, when the struggle between fascists and everybody else dominated the history of the western world, Bethune made his way to Spain where he began working as a doctor on the front lines with Spanish Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War. After their defeat at the hands of Franco’s fascists, he left for China where he joined the Chinese Communists to help fight the Japanese. After living and working through horribly rough conditions for months, he cut a finger during a routine operation. The wound turned septic and the infection soon killed Bethune. 

The statue was originally a gift to the city from the People’s Republic of China. As a civic monument, it is a classic example of socialist realism which defines the traditional aesthetic realities of a socialist state in the twentieth century. While many considered the statue’s original significance to have been lost due to its previous place in the middle of a tiny park located near one of the city’s busiest traffic intersections, a new generation of urban planners understood the importance of civic architecture and the statue is now at the heart of one of our more important civic initiatives.

City officials consider its working relationship with Concordia University to be one of the stellar examples of what can be achieved when both public and private interests collaborate on a common goal. As Place Norman Bethune is being developed as a PPP (Private and Public Partnership) between the city and Concordia University, the city is investing a total of $3 Million to refurbish the square which includes the $30 000 paid to the Centre de Conservation du Québec to restore the Bethune statue. Traffic will continue to be hampered until 2009 when work on the southern part of the square is scheduled to be finished along with the square’s new sidewalks. The entire project, which includes Concordia’s John Molson School of Business, is scheduled to be finished by 2010 and the square, now known as Place Norman Bethune, will be considered as the centerpiece of what the city now defines as the downtown core’s Quartier Concordia.


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