Getting a Lift

Most people probably just walk past this sculpture, paying it little if any notice. It’s located on the west side of the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) facing Hornby St. The King Edward VII Fountain was unveiled on May 6, 1912 to commemorate the British monarch’s death on the same date in 1910. It is the work of Vancouver sculptor Charles Marega (1871–1939) whose works include The Lions at the Stanley Park entrance to the Lions Gate Bridge, the Joe Fortes Memorial Fountain in Alexandra Park, and the statue of George Vancouver at Vancouver City Hall.

The fountain used to be a centerpiece in front of the BC Provincial Courthouse (now the VAG) facing Georgia St. and featured chained bronze cups for drinking. In 1966, it was replaced with the BC Centennial Fountain which has now been permanently removed to make way for the restoration of the public plaza where it sat. There was a plan was to move The King Edward VII Fountain to King Edward and Cambie Streets but there were inadequate funds to restore and move it, so it remained in storage till 1983 when it was relocated to its present site.

What’s truly interesting about this sculpture is the man it commemorates. King Edward VII (1841–1910) was the son of Queen Victoria and the great grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II. Although he came to be king late in life due to Victoria’s nearly 64-year reign, his popularity and influence preceded his kingship. Ostensibly, he was a fashionable playboy who enjoyed a considerable number of affairs. However, he was also a successful diplomat, innovator and a champion of social equality ahead of his time.

Edward traveled broadly and established such good relations with countries he was called “Peacemaker.” He helped promote an end to British-French hostilities and his successful tour in India was in part responsible for Queen Victoria being given the title, Empress of India. He believed in treating all people the same and had remarked while in India that because people had a different colour and religion, they should not be treated harshly by British officials.

He stated the term, nigger, was disgraceful and debunked the “Yellow Peril” propaganda. The Yellow Peril was a racist attitude held by many that feared East Asians as a danger to the western world, and has influenced immigration and equal rights for Asian immigrants until recent times. Edward remarked that the Japanese, for example, were as intelligent, brave, chivalrous and civilized as Europeans. The only negligible difference was their colour. Edward felt that music was a great leveler of society and bridged all classes and this belief was a stimulus for his support to establish the Royal College of Music.

Edward was influential in modernizing the British Navy, reorganizing the British Army and reforming its medical services. He helped establish an alliance between Britain, France and Russia that would later influence WWI.

Edward was an affable, intelligent, open man and perhaps one of the last British monarchs to have such a great amount of influence. He is worth remembering, and the stabilization of his fountain will keep him in our thoughts for some time to come.