Canada will soon have a national monument to honour LGBTQ2S+ communities that features a cloud-shaped, disco-ball inspired structure, as well as stages that can be used for protests and performances.

The winning design for the planned federal monument — meant to commemorate and honour the victims and survivors of Canada’s so-called LGBTQ2S+ purge and others in the community who have been marginalized for who they are — was revealed on Thursday by representatives from the LGBT Purge Fund, the federal government, and the project team.

“All of the other national monuments in Ottawa should be 10 per cent queer, but they're not. We want to create one that is 110 per cent queer, 110 per cent ours. An identifiably queer space that welcomes everyone, 365 days of the year,” said design team member Shawna Dempsey during the announcement. “We want this monument to be a highly-visible symbol of how we survived, asserting that we are proudly, unapologetically here and will be invisible no longer.”

Public feedback was solicited from thousands of Canadians on a shortlist of five designs in November 2021, and a jury of experts in the fields of visual arts, landscape architecture, and urban design, as well as purge survivors and other stakeholders, including Indigenous communities, were consulted as part of the selection process.

Called “Thunderhead,” the monument will be built in Ottawa, on a portion of land tucked behind the Supreme Court of Canada at the intersection of Wellington Street and the Portage Bridge to Quebec, close to the Ottawa River. The monument is scheduled to be completed in 2025, with shovels set to hit the ground in 2023, according to the designers.

The design was conceived by a team based in Winnipeg, and includes architecture firm Public City Inc.’s Liz Wreford, Peter Sampson and Taylor LaRocque; visual artists Dempsey and Lorri Millan; and Indigenous and two-spirit adviser Albert McLeod.

“We are so proud of this moment. Not just for our team, but for our family, our children and for all of their friends that are going to grow up in a world that because of today, promises to provide acceptance, love and understanding...This is an amazing moment for Canada, and we are honored to be given this responsibility. It's not one that we take lightly,” said an emotional Wreford.

LGBTQ2S+ National Monument

A rendering of the winning design proposal for the LGBTQ2S+ National Monument that will be built in Ottawa. (Canadian Heritage)

A thunderhead is a rounded, cumulus cloud that appears before a thunderstorm, and the designers said they were inspired by the power of these clouds, connecting the earth and sky, creating sparks of light, and despite their imposing view, being composed of mainly vapour. 

The centrepiece of the design—a large hollow cylinder structure—is their interpretation of trying to contain the clouds, leaving an imprint of them within the monument, clad with a mosaic of mirrored tile, meant to be a nod to “queer culture and its fight for human rights.”

The designers said they are still working out how to best work with the mirrored tile to factor in how the light is refracted, and to ensure no excess heat is created.

Based on the current design plans, the monument will have a curved wall at the opening of the site that includes information about the purge. The structure features two levels that allow visitors to view it from the ground and from above, as well as a fire pit meant for small gatherings or vigils, and a larger stage that can be used for bigger events or performances.

“It was a challenge to design a monument that's relevant to all LGBTQ2S+ people. We have different identities and histories. However, there is a unifying characteristic: persistent endurance in the struggle for basic human rights and strength to pursue life, sex, and love, to build families and communities, despite societal hostility,” said Dempsey.

LGBTQ2S+ National Monument

A rendering of the winning design proposal for the LGBTQ2S+ National Monument that will be built in Ottawa. (Canadian Heritage)

The purge saw thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Canadians actively discriminated against, interrogated, and fired or demoted from their jobs in the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP, and the federal public service between the 1950s and 1990s.

Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez called this chapter a “stain” on Canadian history.

“The history of institutionalized homophobia, transphobia, and colonialism is recent. It is very well within current memory and the pain is still very real. So, it is vital for us to tell these stories to remember and honor these struggles,” he said.

The monument is estimated to cost at least $8 million, with the funding coming from the LGBT Purge Fund. “Times are changing. So we'll see how the project unfolds,” said Michelle Douglas, executive director of the LGBT Purge Fund, and a purge survivor.

The fund is a non-profit corporation established in 2018 to manage the millions of dollars provided as part of the settlement of a class-action lawsuit between the federal government and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community who had their careers sidelined by what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called “a campaign of oppression.”

The creation of the monument was mandated by the Federal Court as part of the settlement, with the agreement earmarking $15 million for memorial activities including museum exhibits, possible archival projects, and the erecting of a national monument.

It’ll be the responsibility of the National Capital Commission to oversee the development and construction of the monument.

Purge Fund representatives said Thursday that the aim will be that the space become a place both where people can be educated about an impactful chapter in Canada’s LGBTQ2S+ community’s push for equality, as well as a place to have some fun.

“It will be a place where people can come together, where they can cry, they can laugh, or heal… Its unique design will be recognizable and a destination for people across the country and beyond,” said Martine Roy, chair of the Purge Fund’s board of directors. “Canada needs this monument so does the world.”

With files from CTV News Ottawa