David's Journey: From to Fairview Mall to Loyola College(1965 to 1987)
By Ian Howarth, July 2023
THERE’S NOTHING LIKE an upcoming high school reunion to fire up the frontal cortex into overdrive. Fortunately, for the Boomer Generation, this part of the brain still has its edge, whereas the hippocampus, where new memories are stored, is problematic. Which is why the sons and daughters of Boomer Parents have had to suffer through their oft-repeated stories of how great the ‘60s and ‘70s were, but constantly get the names of their grandchildren mixed up.
I graduated from Beaconsfield High School in 1968, a school that in September will celebrate its 65th anniversary. That I’m seven years older than the building in which I spent four formative years is just another disconcerting bookmark of the aging
process. So, as I’ve done before each reunion (and I have a very good reunion attendance record), I scoured my bookshelves for BHS yearbooks.
The first one I located was from 1966, the year the committee was on a tight budget, the result of which is a rectangular-shaped, baby blue, soft-covered gem which is in remarkably good shape despite countless moves. I went first to the Class of ‘66,
grade 9 D, the group photo with my name misspelled “Jan” Howarth, top row, far right. (Oh, how homogenous we were. Never was heard, the diversity word.) Close to my grade 9 homeroom shot was a short opinion piece, part of the students’ literary contributions sprinkled throughout the book. The author was commenting on the controversy surrounding the installation of a replica statue of David, standing tall in all his naked glory in front of one of the anchor stores, Simpson’s, in the just-completed-now-open (August 12, 1965) Fairview Mall in Pointe-Claire. Depending where you go to research where Fairview Mall sits in the history of indoor malls in Canada, it’s either the first or the second; the Park Royal Shopping Mall (1962) in West Vancouver has to get a shoutout.
The original Michelangelo’s David, finished in 1504, is currently in the Accademia Gallery of Florence , (Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze) in Florence, Italy – behind a shatter-proof glass enclosure.
It’s difficult to guess why Simpson’s Fairview management team decided to add a copy of a masterpiece statue just outside the entrance for the grand opening on August 12, 1965. It could well have been a blatant Barnum & Bailey-like move to attract customers at least close to the entrance of the store. Or just to offset the otherwise sanitary look and feel of the mid-’60s mall, which would, before the end of the decade, become part of every strategically located chunk of suburbia. It did, however, with a hanging ceiling-to-floor fountain nearby, make an artistic statement. Michelangelo’s David, (partially circumcised by the way, his “pisello” in what art experts call “battle mode” as he was about to confront Goliath), was a towering 17 feet, but Fairview David came in at a modest 8 feet. The statue indeed did attract a crowd, no doubt pleasing Simpson’s marketing team. Some probably came for a double-header, check out the shiny new mall that boasted “70 stores and 70 F ”, plus do a little statue gawking. It wasn’t too long before Simpson’s and primary builders Ivanhoe Fairview got feedback. Apparently, a new indoor mall that centralized all aspects of consumerism did not impress some as much as did the statue of David. They got calls. They got letters. This naked statue was an affront to the prevailing sense of decency and moral values of the time. Parents who took their children to shop were ill-equipped to answer on-the-spot sex-ed and history questions from their curious offspring. “Mommy, how come that man doesn’t have any underwear on?”
It wasn’t long before management caved into the pressure; this was not the kind of publicity they anticipated. Probably under the cloak of darkness, David was carefully packed away, banished from Fairview Mall after only a few months. Simpson’s (pre-apostrophe banishment days) later explained that the statue was only meant to be a temporary installation anyway.
For us blooming revolutionaries, the removal of the statue was all about “The Man” and their tight-ass conservatism. As my BHS colleague, Bob Chaison, who wrote so eloquently in his opinion piece for the ‘66 yearbook: “One of the main reasons they moved the statue (sic) is because it was immoral for children to see it. The immorality,” Bob stated with brutal honesty, “is really in the hearts of the parents.” BOOM! Lay it on ‘em, Bobby.
I graduated high school in 1968, minus the number of necessary credits, and found myself with few post-secondary options. Too slow for McGill and too late for Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) and no money for an out-of-town college, my father stepped in to help through a connection he had at Loyola College. Incorporated in 1899 by the Jesuits, the school was thoroughly Catholic, though not too Catholic to admit this Protestant heathen in the fall of ‘68. The Jesuits had a progressive streak (after all, the statue of David is art, not titillation right?) and during my second year, the same Fairview David statue was installed in 1966, after a brief one-night stand in a local museum, in the lobby of Loyola’s Georges P. Vanier Library. It was a happy reunion for students on campus who remembered the statue’s brief West Island of Montreal history. David settled into the fabric of the library seamlessly, but some years were rougher than others. The tragedies of 1968 had hardened us; Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kenedy had both been murdered. The year before, in the hot summer of ‘67, Detroit lay in ashes after protests sent the city into five days of chaos. A nude statue of a biblical character in a Catholic college hardly seemed important.
David barely caused a ripple of concern when he arrived at the Loyola Library in 1966.
That didn’t mean that the statue couldn’t become part of a long-standing campus tradition of student pranks, especially around St.Patrick’s Day. In March ‘69, a few mischievous students (probably from the Engineer Faculty who took St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans as a kind of challenge), wrapped David’s parts in a massive, expertly constructed jock strap. This was knowledge-in-action, students using newly-acquired skills from their first-year course, Structural Support 101. The library suddenly had the attention of the whole campus, some of whom had never checked out a book. This caper was just one of some artfully- conceived campus subversion missions. Next St. Patrick’s Day, David was painted emerald green and on other occasions was wrapped in a gigantic diaper, adorned with fig leafs and once was ‘fruited.” A banana peel was involved, I believe. Unlike his original counterpart in Venice, Loyola David had an easy time. In 1991, a serial art vandal, Piero Cannata snuck a small hammer into the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence where David was on exhibit and smashed one of the statue’s toes off before being subdued by security. Michelangelo had taken three years to complete David (1501-1504), carved from a single block of marble, a world masterpiece. Like the portrait of Mona Lisa,which has been stolen, slashed, spray-painted and cake-smeared, David now stands behind protective glass.
Loyola College was a smaller block of marble, not immune to the carving of change on North America college campuses in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. By my grad year (‘72), gone were the compulsory theology and philosophy courses. Another Jesuit-inspired course, Classics, a course whose very existence confused the hell out of me, disappeared from the compulsory course list. Engineers, commerce, science and hippies all had to take it.(I flunked the final.) Moreover, the Jesuits themselves all but disappeared from campus. My first year theology professor, Father O’Brian, one of many priests who handled the philosophy and theology courses, went MIA. After 1970, I rarely saw him or other priests, who’d been a spiritual and present force at Loyola for decades. This was the early naissance of what we have now come to call secularism in Quebec.
I took my BA (major in sociology and English) to McGill University and the Faculty of Education, then a career as a high school teacher. David’s whereabouts were not on my radar. It was only by my deep dive into my 1966 high school yearbook, Bob Chaison’s no-punches-pulled essay, a reunion and a tidal wave of memories that got the journalist in me to wonder: Where is David now? For some reason, I thought that he had met the same fate as his brief stay at Fairview, maybe shipped off to some fancy Italian restaurant in Laval. Alas, not the case. He was in one piece when I graduated in 1972, hanging peacefully for almost 15 years, the pranksters apparently out of pranks. But in March ‘87, some students with no sense of do-no-damage pranksterism, broke into the Georges P. Vanier Library, unfurled a reel or two of fire hoses, strung them around the statue’s neck and hauled it down onto the hard-tiled floor. Broken into hundreds of pieces. A warrior downed. I want to say that the ‘80s was a harsher,darker decade, but, while tempting, it would just be Boomer revisionism. This vandalism illustrated, if nothing else, a lack of imagination.
I would like to think we’ve come a long way in our attitudes towards art that involves showing the human body. Alas, we haven’t. David, recognized as a Renaissance masterpiece, still stirs the conservative loins of Americans bent on controlling what our children learn and see. In March of this year, (what is it about March?) a Florida elementary school principal was told to resign or or be fired after parents complained that grade six students were shown a series of famous sculptures, including one of David. The principal resigned. School Board chairman Barney Bishop III (honest) had this to say. “The rights of parents, that trumps the rights of kids.” Those parents are our children. Somewhere, my friend Bob Chaison is shuddering.
Number 1 Hit – Wolly Bully by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs
Best Picture Academy Award – My Fair Lady
Canadian Prime Minister – Lester B. Pearson (re-elected with a majority)
TV Shows – The Friendly Giant, This Hour has Seven Days, Wayne & Schuster Show
Guess Who’s big hit – Shaking All Over