The Late Ms. Eleanor R. Milne, Dominion Sculptor
We are going to miss you, the happy warrior, but I’m going to talk today about a special person who has been in our midst for some time, though you may not know it, and that is a woman by the name of Eleanor Milne.
Honourable senators, every day as we make our way to this chamber, we pass extraordinary national monuments and stained glass windows capturing the historic events and social aspirations that have shaped our country. Some of the most significant and striking of these pieces of art were created by the skilled hand and artistic vision of a woman named Eleanor Milne. Eleanor was Canada’s Dominion Sculptor for more than 30 years, from 1963 to 1994. She died last month at her home in the Glebe, where I live, in this area of Ottawa.
It’s a fascinating story. Eleanor was born in 1925 and lived in Saint John, New Brunswick, for part of her childhood. She then moved with her family to Montreal where she studied and trained at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, McGill and l’École des beaux-arts de Montréal. Her drive to learn and broaden her talents also took her to the Central College of Arts and Crafts in London, England, and Syracuse University in the United States.
Led by a clear idea of what she wanted and was clearly capable of achieving, Eleanor would not be hindered by chauvinistic attitudes of her generation toward women. She beat out 21 other candidates when she was selected to be our country’s Dominion Sculptor. She was the only woman in the competition.
We here are so fortunate to work where we do and to be able to regularly take in the results of Eleanor’s artistry. These include the design and carving of the History of Canada series in the Centre Block foyer — thousands of years of human and geographic history captured powerfully in a 16-panel frieze.
If I haven’t already illustrated just how committed this woman was, I urge you to picture her in the process of sculpting in this building. Unless the materials could be moved to her studio, she would carve on site here, in some cases working night after night until early morning, balanced on a narrow scaffolding 20 feet off the ground.
Here in the Senate, the work of Eleanor that appeals most to me is the work that is yet to come. Following her tenure on the Hill, she continued to be busy with various assignments. These included the design of the stained glass windows to be installed within this chamber as part of major upcoming renovations.
There is something distinctly moving in the thought that many of us here, including the happy warrior, and those who will come after us will debate issues that shape this country, standing in the cast of light streaming through the windows of Eleanor Milne’s vision. She was an exceptional Canadian who lived life fully, on her own terms and for current and future generations.