Just who gave approval for Markham’s cow statue?
Councillors who unanimously gave the go ahead last summer now say they weren’t given the whole story
Aug. 5, 2017
By Noor Javed
She may have been a prize winner in life, but famous show cow, Charity, had a hard time winning any accolades for her replica version when it had its first showing in Markham two years ago.
The Markham public art advisory committee said nay, twice, to a proposal for the larger than life stainless steel cow statue on stilts, according to minutes from meetings, which weren’t made public until this week.
The statue called Charity: Perpetuation of Perfection, was donated and installed last month by local developer Helen Roman-Barber and has attracted hundreds of curious bovine art critics to the quiet Markham suburb of Cathedraltown, near Elgin Mills Rd and Woodbine Ave.
It has also drawn the ire of residents, who live along Charity Cres., and now go to sleep with the reflection of hoofs and an udder shining into their homes.
“There was no consultation done with the community,” said resident Danny Da Silva, who has lived in the area for almost three years. “At first when it was put up, we thought it was a joke,” he said. “But then we realized it’s not going anywhere.”
Councillors, who unanimously approved the display last summer, said they weren’t given the whole story.
“We were never told the public art committee didn’t want the cow,” said Ward 4 councillor Karen Rea. “We were deliberately not given information by staff,” she said. “In my opinion, this is enough. It should be brought back for discussion, and frankly, the statue should be moved.”
The entire cow debacle has left many residents and councillors wondering, in the face of so much opposition, how did the Holstein manage to get hoisted?
“I felt like from day one, there was something wrong with the process,” said Taleen Der Haroutiounian, vice-chair of the art advisory committee. “Even though the committee said no, it seemed like what we were saying didn’t matter,” she said.
The proposal for an 11-metre high cow statue to be placed in a small park, in the centre of a crescent surrounded by homes, first came before the public art committee more than two years ago.
Local developer Helen Roman-Barber proposed the art piece to honour her father, Stephen Roman, who owned Romandale Farm, the land on top of which Cathedraltown now rests.
He bought the “most perfect cow that ever was”, Brookview Tony Charity, from a farm in Port Perry in 1985 for a then-record $1.45 million. Charity was a nine-time all-Canadian or all-American show cow - and still regarded as the greatest show cow of all time.
Despite the history, the committee felt the cow didn’t fit into its surroundings. In March 2015, committee members rejected the donation after being worried about “safety, esthetics, and the choice of location.”
The next time they said no, in May 2015, the committee said “another location would be suitable” and demanded public consultation.
And yet, months later, after the artist was to meet with the mayor, city staff said it was moving ahead with the project.
“A recommendation is being made by staff to accept the donation of the Charity Sculpture,” according to minutes from April 2016. “If council accepts the donation, all costs including installation of the sculpture will be covered by the donor - Helen Roman-Barber.”
When the matter came to council in June 2016, many of the councillors, including Rea, expressed safety concerns. Deputy Mayor Jack Heath said he wasn’t a “huge fan” and also asked if council was allowed to take a different opinion than the advisory committee. “We wanted to make sure we have the option to say no,” he said, on an audio recording of the meeting, obtained by the Toronto Star.
At the time, staff told him that council normally approves recommendations from advisory committees. But the attached minutes from the art committee only showed the staff endorsement, and did not include two other meetings where committee members expressed opposition to the project and rejected it.
Staff said another art committee, the Varley Art Gallery Acquisitions Committee, had endorsed it, but the minutes show, they only approved the donation “in principle,” and also had concerns about “its extreme height.”
Stephen Chait, the director of Culture & Economic Development for the city did not respond to requests for clarification. Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, did not respond to a request for comment.
Ward 2 Councillor Alan Ho, who seconded the motion at council, says council “was not given accurate information” and supports the community’s opposition to the project. At a heated community meeting last week, he encouraged residents to start a petition opposing the artwork and to attend council in September to tell officials what they think.
Ho hopes to come to a compromise with the community and the developer.
“I think we should try to locate it to a more open space in Cathedraltown or find another creative option,” he said. “I hope the donor will really consider this.”
Residents, who have started a petition, say they also want to find common ground.
“They should drop it down, put up landscaping and make it safer,” said Da Silva. “We also value heritage, but we should make it something that fits into the area,” he said. “Right now, people are laughing at it, and taking selfies...It’s disrespectful.”
But Ed Shiller, a spokesperson for Roman-Barber and her company King David Inc., says the statue was specifically made for this location - and should stay. “Charity is where she belongs,” he said.