Each week in What’s the Meaning of This?, we explain what those weird public-art installations you walk by every day are supposed to represent. This week: The story behind Toronto’s first-ever monument commemorating a public figure.
Name of installation: Sir Adam Beck
Artist: Emanuel Hahn
Location: University and Richmond
Date of display: 1933
What’s it supposed to be?: Provided you’re familiar with Ontario’s history, the appearance of a statue dedicated to Adam Beck should come as no surprise. For everyone else wondering who he is (and surprised that history-phobic Toronto has such a prominent pre-World War II monument): Beck’s advocacy of hydroelectricity in the early part of the 20th-century has essentially benefited the lives of every inhabitant in the city. At one time the mayor of London, Ontario, and subsequently a Conservative MPP, Beck was a stubborn, tenacious man who championed the use of water from Niagara Falls, as well as Ontario’s lakes and rivers, to supply the province with electricity. The sculpture shows Beck looking contemplative (and almost glaring at Queen’s Park, where encountered much opposition to his ideas) in the middle of a large stone base, the sides of which possess channels that funnel water down after it rains—a sly nod to the principles of hydroelectricity. Curiously, according to author John Warkentin, Beck’s statue existed for many decades as the city’s only heroic monument—a fact that’s undoubtedly lost on the majority of people who stroll past Hahn’s installation on their way to work and wonder who the hell this guy is.