A while back I made a few posts of some small format acrylic paintings. There were two more in that series, or “fit” really, of painting. I hesitate with the word series because these two paintings thematically belong in series with another attempt at rendering the Prince of Wales Armoury in Edmonton.
The paintings themselves are about 5” x 7”. The small format adds tension to the juxtaposition of the armouries imposing brick structure, full of angles, against the prairie sky. It is a relic of a certain era in Canadian history that is also a monument to its time, but one that has found a new use to a modern generation.
The Prince of Wales rough history as a military depot in Edmonton established it as a monument to an Edmonton coming of age. It was built in the years when the original fur trading fort was being pulled down, and the legislature buildings put up. It is both triumphant and defensive. It was the shadow of an eight hundred year old Norman castle cast by the fire of bourgeois Canadian colonialism that had felt itself secure for little more than thirty years, from the Resistance of 1885.
Built over the opening year of the First World War the armoury’s appearance also signified the end of the era of colonial acquisition. Coming from such a transitional period, both domestically and internationally, the building is a monument to its period. To the modern eye it appears as a bastion to histories deserving of critical re- evaluation. But it’s been re-purposed to be used as the city archives, which seems appropriate.
As Canadian military historian Tim Cook says, “Archives are power. Whoever controls the records controls the past.” The Prince of Wales Armoury signifies, as a building, our ability, distinct of all the animals, to shape history to our own ends. In the past it has been dedicated to the preservation of a society based on the domination of one part of humanity by another.
But in its modern use the armoury building has become a site that offers the means to conduct a re-evaluation of that society which built its castle on the prairie in the first place. The archive is a tool for the cross examination of history. The Prince of Wales Armoury was turned into It a living monument, not just a celebratory epitaph to dark histories. It is a preservation of the past re-purposed with a tool meant to help guide us in decisions about how we will shape our history in the future. Like turning a missile silo into a public library.