Artists are answering the call to imagine an International Mother Language Day monument in Taylor Creek Park.
Azim Dewan, a long-time Crescent Town resident, leads a local non-profit that formed to commission and build a monument this fall.
“This is for everybody,” said Dewan. “When this is established next year, maybe after 10 years – if I’m alive – I’ll see people coming even from outside Toronto to see where the monument is.”
Celebrated every Feb. 21 since 2000, International Mother Language Day has its roots in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
A part of East Pakistan until 1971, Dhaka is now the capital of an independent Bangladesh, and home to the Shaheed Minar, or Martyrs Memorial – a much-visited monument that represents a mother and her fallen sons.
Featuring white marble columns in front of a red sun, the 14-metre tall monument replaced a smaller one built at night and under curfew by Dhaka students on Feb. 21, 1952.
Earlier that day, the university and medical college students had seen several classmates shot dead by police during a protest in favour of making Bangla a second official language of what was then East Pakistan.
While the Shaheed Minar was twice demolished, it was rebuilt after independence and has since become a worldwide symbol of the need to protect all languages.
“When we talk about International Mother Language Day, obviously it had its start in Bangladesh,” said Rizuan Raham, secretary of the Toronto IMLD group.
“However, over the years, and especially now, it represents the passion for multiculturalism in this country,” Raham added, noting efforts to preserve French in Canada.
“Even though we think of it as a Bangladeshi thing, it’s a Canadian thing.”
From Vancouver to London, Paris to Sydney, many cities have built their own mother-language monuments. Most are on a smaller scale, and with a different design than the original.
Likewise, in their call to artists, the Toronto IMLD group requested a monument of about half the height at most of the Shaheed Minar, and with an original design. The group will appoint a jury to choose a shortlist of designs, which will then be presented at a public meeting.
City councillor Janet Davis said another group had tried to build an IMLD monument years ago, but a survey of area parks settled on a site that was too far from Crescent Town, home to Canada’s largest Bangladeshi community.
While parks staff will need to approve the monument, which would be donated to the city under its public art program, Davis said there is a promising site by the Dawes Road entrance to Taylor Creek Park – a circle of grass and trees rising from the middle of a small parking lot.
“It has a kind of prominence,” said Davis. “I’m hoping it will be an iconic place that reflects the cultural diversity not just of our community, but our city.”
For updates or to help out with the monument campaign, visit the Toronto IMLD page on Facebook.