Tied to the history of Newfoundland, artist Morgan MacDonald seeks to portray the province’s rich and sometimes tragic history through art
This July first marks 103 years since the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel. That fateful day on the battlefields of France nearly wiped out the Newfoundland Regiment as they fought to push into no man’s land during the First World War. The next morning, only 68 men answered roll call. Over 100 years later, the scar this battle has left on the collective unconscious of Newfoundlanders can still be seen and felt. Many try to commemorate those lost to the war in their own personal way.
‘An artistic tribute’
Newfoundlanders like Morgan MacDonald of the Newfoundland Bronze Foundry seeks to honour the fallen through art. Macdonald has been creating bronze statues that capture the Newfoundland spirit for over 15 years, starting with a statue of The Rower at Quidi Vidi lake.
“Our history is incredibly connected to the First World War, as it relates to Beaumont Hamel. Some would say that the end of the Newfoundland Dominion was at Beaumont Hamel,” said MacDonald. “A generation was wiped out on that fateful day on July 1, 1916. I like to think of it as an artistic tribute that’s dedicated to the memory of these men. So from that aspect it’s really important for me to recognize that.”
MacDonald’s 4000 square foot foundry sits cloaked in trees atop a hill on Marine Drive. Inside, one is greeted with partially finished statues that portray all walks of life in Newfoundland. From the Beothuks, to fishermen, to soldiers and fairies, the Newfoundland Bronze Foundry covers every aspect of life in this province.
Lest we forget
MacDonald has a personal connection to Newfoundland’s war-time history. His grandfather — Joseph Babstock, Newfoundland Regiment soldier #1847 of Eastport was captured as a prisoner of war during his time with the Newfoundland Regiment. “My personal history from the Great War in Newfoundland runs deep. The subject matter — it’s really important to Newfoundland. I mean this is our identity, this our heart and soul,” said MacDonald.
Winston Churchill once famously said, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it,” and MacDonald feels the same way. He hopes that addressing The Great War through art will help the memory of the past stay alive for future generations.
“In my experience there’s a segment of the population in Newfoundland that is completely aware of the history, and know firsthand from their relatives experience — whether it’s the letters or the correspondence that goes back and forth about the tragedies of this particular time in our history — and I think it’s important that that’s passed on to the next generation,” said MacDonald. “We just had the D-Day celebrations, and that was kind of the theme of the things — passing on the torch and making sure that the next generation doesn’t forget the trials and tribulations and sacrifice that these soldiers and sailors have done.”
Danger Tree Memorial
MacDonald and his team, which consists of project managers, bronze sculptors, historical researchers, graphic designers and foundry technicians were currently in the midst of creating another dedication to those who served when The Herald came around to see their shop.
Spread across the ground in pieces were the parts of a statue dedicated to Private Hugh Walter McWhirter — the first casualty from the Newfoundland Regiment during the Gallipoli campaign in modern-day Turkey. The statue will be erected in Corner Brook, as part of the Danger Tree Memorial.
“He’s from the curling area, and so we only thought it was fitting to recognize him in the Bay of Islands,” said MacDonald.
His work as an artist has even brought him to France, where he stood upon the grounds of Beaumont Hamel. This experience seems to be what truly connected him to the men of the Newfoundland Regiment.
“We were commissioned to replicate that particular memorial that sits at Beaumont Hamel, and this is kind of where I’ve fallen into this rabbit hole to commemorate these men,” MacDonald recalled.
“That was an incredibly moving experience to be able to work at Beaumont Hamel on the grounds and bring this memorial back, so I think my education as a Newfoundlander started from that point on.”
An honour & a privilege
The uniqueness of his position isn’t lost on him, either. “I don’t think people realize the incredible privilege that it is to do this kind of work. It’s a very rare thing to be asked to create a statue. It’s a year-long effort,” said MacDonald. “I mean to be asked to do this, it’s an honour and a privilege, but it’s a very rare thing. Statues are not commissioned every day.”
When asked about how long he can keep telling the story of Newfoundland through statues, he didn’t seem all that concerned about lack of inspiration.
“It’s always Newfoundland centric. There’s a lot of Newfoundland history that’s not really focused on. There’s an incredible wealth of history that can be drawn upon for artistic inspiration, so I’m not at a loss for that kind of subject matter,” he shared.
MacDonald does the men of the Newfoundland Regiment proud with his art, breathing life into metal. They’ve put a human face to the tragedies of battles like Beaumont Hamel, and helped remember the sacrifices those young men made when they went over the top of the trenches more than 100 years ago.
Anyone wishing to learn more about the Newfoundland Bronze Foundry and the process of creating sculptures like theirs can visit www.newfoundlandbronze.ca.