Last summer on a bike ride in northwest Winnipeg, my husband and I passed this life-sized bronze- statue we hadn’t seen before.
We stopped to look at the plaque on the statue which informed us that the gentleman depicted was Dr Jose Rizal and he had been a hero in the Philippines.
I wondered what heroic things Dr Rizal had done and how his statue came to be in my city.
A little internet research revealed that Dr Rizal wrote novels in the late 1800s and those novels exposed the tyranny of the Spanish rulers in the Philippines. He advocated for representation for the Philippines in the Spanish Parliament, freedom of expression and assembly for his people, and equal legal rights for Filipino citizens.
He was eventually executed for being so outspoken about his political views. Just before his death, he wrote a famous poem called Last Farewell.
He is recognized as one of the first Asian advocates of democracy.
Since I now knew Dr Rizal had been a writer who had tried to bring about change through the written word rather than with violence, I guessed that perhaps he was holding a pencil in his hand in the statue.
I also discovered that the sculptor who had made the Winnipeg statue of Dr Rizal in 2020 was none other than Canadian artist Peter Sawatzky who also created a wonderful piece of art Seal River Crossing near my home in the Exchange District.
The Winnipeg chapter of an international organization called The Order of Knights of Rizal is responsible for Dr Rizal’s statue being in our city. Their organization’s members study the work of Dr Rizal and try to carry out projects that reflect the ideals he wrote about.
The Winnipeg group has opened a park, sponsored programs for youth and seniors, and plays a key role in the celebration of the city’s Philippines Heritage Week held every June.
I also found out that Winnipeg isn’t the only Canadian city with a statue of Dr Rizal. You will also find statues of him in Calgary and Airdrie Alberta, in Toronto and Markham Ontario and in Montreal.
Nearly a million people of Filipino descent make their homes in Canada.
Some 80,000 Filipinos are right here in Winnipeg and represent 9% of our city’s population.
So it is only natural that someone who is a hero to them would be honoured in the place they now call home.
There is a quote on the Manitoba Tyndall stone base of Dr Rizal’s statue that urges us all to believe in something and make our lives count for something. That’s a sentiment that can inspire all Winnipeg citizens not only those of Filipino descent.
The statue is at the corner of Dr Jose Rizal Way and Old Commonwealth Path in the Waterford Green Common.
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