Statue of hero to gay community draws monumental flak
Sculpture depicts Toronto magistrate, sex scandal that drove him away
Updated: 6:31 p.m. ET June 14, 2005
TORONTO - A statue commemorating a hero of Toronto's gay community is raising hackles both for the actions of the man it depicts and for the somewhat graphic description of the 19th century sex scandal that made him famous.
But denizens of Toronto's centrally located and often irreverent gay neighborhood — the home of the city's hugely popular annual gay pride celebrations — say the sculpture is not offensive and fits with the spirit of the community.
The 13-1/2 foot (4.1 meter) bronze and granite monument depicts Alexander Wood, famous for both owning the land on which the community now sits and for being run out of town under a cloud of sexual scandal in the early 1800s.
It shows a dapper young man wearing a long coat and holding a top hat and cane.
"It's nice to have the statue in the community, but I don't think it's well done," said one area resident, referring to a plaque at the statue's base that outlines the scandal.
"I think it's misleading. The sensationalistic side of homosexuality is not the norm."
Wood emigrated from Scotland in the 1790s, becoming a merchant, militiaman and a well-respected magistrate, before running into trouble in 1810.
A woman reported a rape, noting she had scratched the attacker on his genitals. Wood took matters into his own hands, lining up the suspects and demanding that they drop their pants so he could "inspect" them.
After word of the incident got around, Wood was widely branded a "molly," a derogatory term for homosexuals, and he agreed to leave town in exchange for not being prosecuted for abusing his position.
The incident is commemorated on the statue's granite base, with a bronze plaque depicting a man's rear end with his pants around his knees, and Wood's outstretched hand in mid-examination.
Hero or pervert?
"Let's get something straight: Alexander Wood wasn't a hero, he was a pervert," columnist Rachel Marsden wrote in the conservative National Post newspaper, noting that the bronze plaque was "something that could pass for a scene out of the Michael Jackson trial."
"This, in the middle of the city's supposedly family-friendly tourist district," she wrote.
However, backers of the monument say Wood is an important link to the area's colorful history and the plaque is unlikely to offend many in an area where public displays of affection between same-sex partners are commonplace.
Kyle Rae, a city councilor for the area, says Wood's significance in the community is not due to his actions or his sexual orientation — it is not certain whether he was actually gay — but because of the persecution he suffered.
Rae said a quick glance at the text on the statue will explain the context to passersby.
"That's the problem with people who don't read," he said.
"I think it's always good for a person to have to explain things ... and not look the other way."
The statue cost C$200,000 (US$160,000), split between public funds and a local business development group. It sits just at the south end of the main gay village on Church Street, a street lined with coffee shops, bars and emblematic rainbow flags.
"It adds a bit of distinction to the corner," said Mike Calnan, who lives in the neighborhood.
"It has become a sort of equal to the Blarney Stone," he added, referring to the prominent buttocks on the bronze illustration.
"People have been rubbing it for luck."