Coupland’s Ozymandias Or; A Critical Reading of The Canadian Fallen Firefighters Memorial

by Ian Alexander Mortimer

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The Canadian Fallen Firefighters Memorial, designed by Douglas Coupland in collaboration with PLANT Architect Inc., was unveiled on September 9, 2012 in downtown Ottawa. Designed to commemorate the work-related deaths of firefighters in Canada, this memorial is dominated by a two-and-a-half times life sized, golden statue of a fireman. This study looks at the memorial as part of the continual process, undertaken by the federal government, of defining and anchoring narratives of national identity through monumental representation. The multitude of traditions and narratives that the memorial references and employs is critically interpreted, revealing the codes borrowed from Christian religious worship, war remembrance ritual and the contemporary post- 9/11 ‘defender of the nation’ paradigm. These religious, nationalistic and religious codes of remembrance provide the gravitas and emotional punch, which symbolically elevate the occupation of firefighting to the status of a peer of the armed forces members. Also layered within the landscape’s design are more familiar, non-militarized and non-religious narratives of the imagined identity of Canada. These ‘softer’ symbols, and their associated narratives, are used to temper the hawkish and jarringly Christian and militaristic symbolism in the landscape’s design. Critical analysis of this landscape breaks through the layering and tempering of the memorial’s messaging, arguing that the memorial’s anchoring of a masculine, heroic and militaristic conception of Canadian identity, as dramatically exemplified by the golden, colossal fireman, is a problematic addition to the monumental representation of Canadian Identity in Canada’s capital.


Firefighters Memorial + Douglas Coupland + Canadian Identity + Militarism


Ian Alexander Mortimer is a Masters student at the School of Canadian Studies at Carleton University, where his interdisciplinary research is roughly focused on cultural studies. Ian is generally interested in visual rhetoric within contemporary Canadian society. His proposed thesis focuses on militarized representations of Canadian Identity and their proliferation in Canada’s visual landscape. Born and raised in Ottawa, Ian completed his Bachelor of Arts Honours History degree at Carleton University in 2011. Mortimer retired in the fall of 2012 from the Canadian Canoe/Kayak Team after a long athletic career, and is employed as a coach at the Rideau Canoe Club. Ian is also the co-director of MotionBall Ottawa, a fundraising organization that raises money and awareness for Special Olympics Canada, as well as a sitting member of the national board of directors of the Coaches Association of Canada.

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