Mississauga shared its newest public art collection piece with the community November 28 with the unveiling of “Conference at the Council House.” The sculpture stands at the entry to the central library and Mississauga Celebration Square in recognition of the city’s rich indigenous history as well as its diversity.
Members of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation (MNCFN) attended the ceremony, including Elder Garry Sault and Stacey LaForme, MNCFN Chief. Various members of city council also attended, including Mayor Bonnie Crombie. The unveiling marks the final Canada 150th event for the city.
“As we look forward to Mississauga’s very promising future, so many of our hopes and dreams and aspirations are rooted in building a very memorable, walkable, pedestrian-oriented downtown and public art is fundamental in helping us achieve these goals,” said Crombie.
The historic council house was built 132 years ago on the New Credit reserve in Hagersville, where approximately 266 Mississaugas of the New Credit moved in 1847 from their ancestral home on the Credit River. The move followed treaties of 1805, 1818 and 1820 regarding negotiation of the lands around the river. Improvements were made at the new settlement using money from the sale of the land. Construction of the council house occurred in 1882. It served as the seat of Chief and Council as well as the First Nations programs and services until 1988.
The sculpture is an artistic replica of the tower that tops the council house. Thirty birds, cast in bronze, gather on and around its white steel tower and cupola. The tower serves as a reminder that the city stands on the traditional land of the MNCFN. The birds represent citizens of the region and, in keeping with the aboriginal philosophy of respect and living in balance with all of creation, they also honour the wildlife that shares the city’s living space.
The bronze birds are interpretations of drawings done by residents and members of the MNCFN community of actual birds seen throughout the community. Participating residents included students of Glenhaven Sr. Public School, who also attended the unveiling. Last year, the students participated in workshops to provide input for the design of the birds.
Artists Hadley Howes and Maxwell Stephens created “Conference at the Council House.” Howes attended the event and spoke eloquently about the poem The Conference of the Birds which served as inspiration for the sculpture. The poem, written in 1177 by Persian poet Farid ud-Din Attar, tells the story of the birds of the world gathering to search for a mysterious king. They set out on a long journey through numerous challenging obstacles. Of the thousands of birds that set out, only 30 birds do not turn back.
Their final challenge is to reconcile with themselves the degree to which they should be accountable for horrific events that occurred years before. In doing so, they begin to find a new life in which their souls become liberated. Their final destination is a lake so calm that they can see their reflections and realize that they are, themselves, the king that they seek.
Howes explained how the poem represents the process of reconciliation.
“When we speak of reconciliation, I think it is very important to understand what this means for each one of us individually,” she said. “For me, it starts with learning the history of the people of this land, to accept responsibility for my complicity with this project as a settler, be accountable for this complicity and take action to live according to the treaties so we can live together and share what the land so generously offers with dignity, respect and caring.”
Image: bronze birds perch on and around the new Conference at the Council House sculpture