Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861), Bard of the Ukraine, was a celebrated poet, artist and champion of his people’s freedom from tsarist oppression and serfdom. He has been celebrated by UNESCO as a cultural leader deserving world acclaim. The statue was mounted on a large marble base in the middle of the park, which was a cultural centre and summer camp for Ukrainian Canadians. The monument was a gift of the Soviet Society for Cultural Relations Abroad to honour the half-million people of Ukrainian origins living in Canada in 1951, the 90th anniversary of the poet’s death.
In a tragic act of vandalism in December 2006, the huge bronze statue, seven metres in height and weighing two tonnes, was cut from its base and sold to a recycling plant in Burlington as scrap. The workers at the plant kept the head back because it was unique, stating “We had seen statue pieces before but nothing of this quality”.
Shevchenko was born a serf in the village of Moryntsi, Ukraine. Orphaned at 11, his talents as an artist attracted the attention of a progressively-minded intellectual circle of artists in St. Petersburg, who collected enough money to buy him out of serfdom. His roots and memories, fed by Ukrainian minstrels and others, developed a passionate poetry exposing the tsarist oppression of the Ukrainian people. His celebrated poem “Kobzar” and his sturdy call for Ukrainian self-determination brought him into direct conflict with the authorities. He was exiled in 1847 to 10 years of punitive military service in the far eastern regions of the Russian Empire. While bitterly anti-tsarist, Shevchenko supported the striving of the Russian people and all Slavs against the Ottomans, Polish and Hapsburg overlords. He identified with and was strongly influenced by the revolutionary-democratic traditions that inspired the tsarist officers in December 1825, known as the Decembrists, who had revolted against the tsar. His call for Ukrainian independence was one envisioning a wider all-Slav union. On his liberation from military service he continued to write poems and prose that inspired generation after generation of Ukrainians to this day.
The Taras Shevchenko museum, the only such museum in North America, is located at 1614 Bloor Street West in Toronto, and was founded by the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians for the purpose of popularizing the life and work of the Bard of the Ukraine. The Shevchenkiana Research library contains hundreds of editions of Shevchenko’s poetry, prose, and art albums as well as academic essays, commentaries, and reference works.