Victoria’s Spirit of the Republic honours Spanish war

We Canadians don’t really like to express ourselves, at least not publicly. We’re reluctant to let our emotions show to the world at large, particularly, it seems, in honouring fellow Canadians – even those who’ve contributed selflessly to the common weal, heroes and heroines of whom we should be proud. Rarely do we go in for statues or monuments. As near as we come to public reverence these days, it seems, is roadside memorials or headstones in a cemetery.

Notable exceptions are the monuments and memorials across Canada and in Europe and elsewhere honouring our war dead.

These, after all, are the very least we can do for the more than 100,000 Canadians who gave their lives for their country – for us.

Another exception can be found near Victoria’s James Bay, near the west corner of the intersection of Menzies and Belleville streets. You’ll have to look for it. Privately funded and installed in 2000, it’s the statue of a robe-clad woman although she more strongly resembles a crowned knight of the Crusades. Her arms are extended high in the air and she’s holding a wreath in her right hand, a dove in the other. The Spirit of the Republic honours the Canadians who served in the the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion – not in the First, Second of Korean Wars, but in the Spanish Civil War, a war not officially recognized at the time by Canada.

A war fought by civilian volunteers from dozens of nations who recognized the threat that fascism posed for all of Europe and beyond while Great Britain practised appeasement and the United States pursued isolation.

More than 1,500 Canadians served in that unofficial war, 1936-1939, while our own government, and those of most other Western nations, stood idly by as Franco’s rightist Republican Army ultimately overthrew Spain’s democratically elected government. Franco succeeded only with the aid of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy whose troops used the Spanish battlefields as testing grounds for new weapons – for the "real" war that was soon to follow.

It’s accepted that almost half of those Canadians who volunteered in Spain lost their lives while serving in the Canadiandominated Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, the name by which they became known and in whose memory the statue was erected.

Just as these courageous volunteers were officially shunned then, the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 2012 passed without official notice in Canada, neither the departments of National Defence nor Canadian Heritage commemorating the event. Compare this to Ottawa’s mega-milliondollar observance of the War of 1812-14, and its current plans for the First World War, 1914-18.

As was noted at the time, "The names of volunteers who died in Spain do not appear in Veterans Affairs Canada’s Books of Remembrance. Survivors do not collect government pensions for their efforts. And permanent exhibitions at the Canada War Museum in Ottawa make no explicit reference to the [members of the M-P Battalion]."

Although National Defence’s lack of recognition has been attributed to the fact that they weren’t members of the Canadian armed forces, many believe this official snub to be a holdover from the Cold War because many of the Canadians who fought in Spain were radicals, far-left socialists or outright communists, all anathematic to the democratic but capitalistic government of the day.

Perhaps the closest that the Spirit of the Republic has come to official recognition is that interim NDP premier Dan Miller attended its unveiling in February 2000.

Just Posted

From left: Thomas Kuecks, David Lane, John Ivison, Denis Berger, Rod Gray, and James Kuecks are Cabin Fever. Catch their performance on the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre website. (Ashley Foot photo)
A&E column: Music Festival winners, CVAC awards, and Cabin Fever

The latest from the Cowichan Valley arts and entertainment community

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
Cowichan Valley MLA Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

BC Green Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

The city-owned lot at 361 St. Julien St., which has been home to a temporary homeless site for more than a year, will be sold and plans are to build a three-storey mixed-use development there, Peter de Verteuil, Duncan CAO explained at a recent council meeting. (File photo)
New development planned for homeless site in Duncan

Lot on St. Julien Street would see three-storey building

Historian and longtime Citizen columnist T.W. Paterson photographs the historical wreckage of a plane on Mount Benson. Paterson recently won an award from the British Columbia Historical Foundation. (Submitted)
Cowichan’s Tom W. Paterson wins award for historical writing

British Columbia Historical Federation hands Recognition Award to local writer

This electric school bus is the newest addition to the Cowichan Valley School District’s fleet. (Submitted)
Editorial: New electric school bus good place to start

Changing public transit like buses to electric really is important.

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

The Co-op gas station at Whiskey Creek is burning after a camper van exploded while refueling just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Exploding camper van torches Highway 4 gas station between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni

Highway traffic blocked after Whiskey Creek gas station erupts into flames

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Greater father involvement in the home leads to improved childhood development and increased marital satisfaction, says expert. (Black Press Media file photo)
Vancouver Island researcher finds lack of father involvement a drag on gender equality

Working women still taking on most child and household duties in Canada: UVic professor

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

Most Read