Wearing a garland similar to the one now adorning the newly returned Gaskin Lion, six-year-old Natalie Wowk was dressed in traditional Ukrainian costume Friday afternoon as she attended a ceremony to welcome back the refurbished statue to Macdonald Park. The restoration was a project of the city’s Ukrainian communmity to mark the centennial of its people settling in Kingston.
The lion was restored this year with support from the Ukrainian Canadian Club of Kingston and the League of Ukrainian Canadians. The project was a way to mark the 100th anniversary of the Ukrainian settlement in Kingston
Update: Following is the text of the address given by Lubomyr Luciuk, Ukrainian Canadian Club of Kingston, at the unveiling of the restored Gaskin Lion in Macdonald Park on Friday, July 9:
We meet together in a place infused with memories. Thousands upon thousands of Kingstonians and visitors to this city have come here over the course of the past century and have stood beside, or sat upon, or played near this lion statue. As such, this has always been a place of joy — for children, for their parents, indeed some families have been returning here over the course of several generations. So today, first and foremost, we celebrate the return of this lion. He left us only because he had begun to show the wear and tear of over 100 years of public service. He needed restoration. That done, we welcome him back to where he belongs.
We also perform another exercise, that of recovering memory. This trilingual plaque is the first in a series of "Kingston Remembers" markers, whose purpose is to recall the stories of our community, not only for those living here now but for generations yet to be born. Those who visit this park after today will learn that this iron statue was given to the city in 1909 by the family of the late Captain John Gaskin, an alderman, mayor, businessman and fervent Orangeman. For Gaskin, this stalwart, defiant and stoic lion symbolized only one thing — the British Empire. He certainly never intended that it should represent anything else. And yet it came to. That is because the freedoms this Dominion offers are the most enduring heritage of the very same imperial legacy that was so dear to Captain Gaskin. So with the installation of this plaque we pay due honour to him. From this day forward, Kingston will remember what most of us had forgotten — that this was Gaskin’s Lion.
Today we also commemorate another history, that of the Ukrainians who began settling in Kingston 100 years ago. For us, the conservation of this statue marks not only the centennial of Kingston’s Ukrainian community but represents a way of giving thanks to the city that became their home. Our people worked in the Davis Tannery, at the Locomotive Works, in the grain elevators and factories of this city, and on farms in the surrounding countryside. Some came as economic migrants, others as political refugees fleeing Nazi or Soviet oppression. In Kingston, they got a chance to begin anew, to rebuild their lives, to raise families and make Canada their home and native land. They did just that. But many never forgot their ancestral homeland. That is why our community embraced this project.
Gaskin’s Lion calls to mind how most of our parents or grandparents emigrated from the region around the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. The coat of arms of Lviv bears a lion rampant, just as Kingston’s does. And so we have adopted Gaskin’s Lion as our own. This statue speaks to where our predecessors came from, of how fortunate they were in what they found here, and of how grateful each of us should be for where we find ourselves now — here in Kingston, here in Canada.
Lubomyr Luciuk is chairman of the Ukrainian Canadian Club of Kingston and a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada