The Famous 5 at Olympic Plaza

By Richard White, September 19, 2013

Last week I had some time to kill before a morning coffee meeting so decided to flaneur a bit and ended up at Olympic Plaza and the Famous Five sculpture.  The morning sun was just rising about the buildings to the east and casting a wonderful spotlight on the ladies. 

I love the way the sculptures invite pedestrians both locals and tourists to stop and interact with them.  There is a chair to sit on if you wish, or you can just go up to them and have a chat.  Getting up close you can see how artist Barbara Paterson has created realistic portraits that capture a sense of the personality of each of the in figures.

I quickly grabbed my phone aka camera and started shooting. 

Once home I thought it would be fun to share the artwork and history with my readers. I had some superficial knowledge about the role of the five ladies in lobby for women’s rights early in the 20th century but I should know more. I also knew that the sculpture had been commissioned by the Famous 5 Foundation and was spearheaded by Calgarian Francis Wright.  I also knew that there is an identical installation in Ottawa on Parliament Hill. 

I hit the jackpot on my first click on Famous 5 Foundation website. Rather then retyping the details click here and you can find out the history of the Famous 5.  Some more search told me that there is also different Famous Five sculpture at the Manitoba Legislature by artist Helen Granger Young. 

What captured my interest most on the Famous Five site the quotes selected to represent each of the five ladies.  



This is the Famous 5 sculpture by Edmonton sculptor Barbara Paterson in Calgary's Olympic Plaza.  Paterson captured the five women at the moment they reunited over a cup of tea to celebrate their victory. 

Nellie McClung 1873 – 1951

“Canada is destined to be one of the great nations of the world and Canadian women must be ready for citizenship.”

Nellie McClung is holding up the newspaper with the announcement that in 1929 that they had won the "Persons" case in 1929. 

Louise McKinney 1868 – 1931

“What, after all, is the purpose of a woman’s life? The purpose of a woman’s life is just the same as the purpose of a man’s life: that she may make the best possible contribution to the generation in which she is living.”

Louise McKinney sitting looking at McClung holding up the newspaper hands folded. The artist has captured a sense of pleasure, pride and/or satisfaction in her face. 

Emily Murphy 1868 – 1933

“ I believe that never was a country better adapted to produce a great race of women than this Canada of ours, nor a race of women better adapted to make a great country.” 

Emily Murphy is standing by a chair gesturing to pedestrians to come and sit and think about how the world has changed?  

Henrietta Muir Edwards 1849 – 1931

“If women had the vote there would be no need to come twice asking for better legislation for women and children, no need to come again and again for the appointment of women inspectors where women and children are employed; we would not ask in vain for the raising of the wage or consent.” 

Henrietta Muir Edward sits next to McKinney holding up her cup of tea as if she is toasting the victory.  People love to interact with the sculptures often leaving their coffee cups or other artifacts on the table. 

Irene Parlby 1868 – 1965

“If politics mean…the effort to secure through legislative action better conditions of life for the people, greater opportunities for our children and other people’s children…then it most assuredly is a woman’s job as much as it is a man’s job.”

Irene Parlby standing next to McClung gesturing to the newspaper with the headline that Women are Persons. 

I think these quotes nicely sum-up the issues of the time and serves to illustrate how the world has evolved over the past 100 years, in part as a result of the diligent efforts of these five women.  Isn’t it ironic that today Alberta has a female Premier.  

Downtown Calgary is blessed with several memorial bronze sculptures but none are as accessible or as fun at the Famous Five.  The best time to judge the success of public art and public spaces is not immediately after they are completed, but 10 years later to see if they have continued to capture the public's imagination and truly created a sense of place. 

The Famous 5 Foundation is planning a fun event at the sculptures on October 18th to celebrate "Persons" Day. Everyone is welcome!  

Reader comments: 

  • JH writes: "your piece on the ladies is awesome, informative and to the 'point'"
  • BB writes: "A great salute to Alberta's progressive past. Here is hoping that this past will influence its future."
  • SM writes: "I like The Conversation" the two guys talking on Stephen Avenue. It's timeless.
  • FB writes: "Surprisingly this barely TOUCHES the surface when it comes to public art in Calgary.
  • MW writes: "I love this sculpture and always visit it when I go to Calgary and Ottawa. I sit on the chair and thank these ladies. Hope you like reading ti as much as I did." 
  • RP writes: "I did enjoy every word. The sculptures are great. It is like those warrior statues of the heroes of Hungry...they each have personality."  

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Olympic Plaza Needs A Mega Makeover

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