News

Artwork commemorates Belgian immigration

By Michelle Ruby, Brantford Expositor

Ludwig Vandenbussche of Belgium unveils the Flemish Emigrant Statue on Saturday, which has a new home at the Delhi Tobacco Museum and Heritage Centre. MICHELLE RUBY/Postmedia Network

Ludwig Vandenbussche of Belgium unveils the Flemish Emigrant Statue on Saturday, which has a new home at the Delhi Tobacco Museum and Heritage Centre. MICHELLE RUBY/Postmedia Network

DELHI, ON - 

 A statue of Flemish immigrants awaiting their passage to North America has found a permanent home in the Delhi Tobacco Museum and Heritage Centre.

The large artwork, which weighs about 330 pounds and stands about 5.2 feet high and is called the Flemish Emigrant Statue, had for a dozen years been on display at the Delhi Belgian Club.

But with the imminent closure of the club, a new space was needed to house the piece, which has become an important symbol of Belgian immigration, particularly to the Delhi area.

“It’s most fitting it comes here,” said Norfolk Coun. Mike Columbus at a ceremony on Saturday at the museum. “Hopefully, this will be its final resting place.”

At the ceremony were Ludwig and Doreen Vandenbussche of Belgium who commissioned the statue in 2004, fundraising about 12,500 Euro ($18,000 CAD) for artist Patrick Steen to produce the work.

The project arose, said Ludwig, on the 90th anniversary of the Gazette van Detroit, a Flemish newspaper in Dutch and English, published in the United States since 1914. It targets Flemish immigrants and their descendants living in the United States and Canada. Ludwig contributes to the newspaper.

The artwork was unveiled in September 2004 at a community centre in Belgium.

“We wanted to express thanks to the Flemish immigrants in North America,” said Ludwig. “It was the start of an adventure but it was very hard. It was a new country with new customs. They were homesick.”

The statue depicts a Flemish family waiting on cobblestone at the Antwerp pier for their voyage on the Red Star Line. The family is looking over the ocean to the New World and toward their future.

The figures and cobblestone are cast in bronze. The blue basin representing the ocean is metal and the city skyline – Ludwig said it can represent New York City or Toronto – is made of recycled farming machinery, including chains and a radiator.

It symbolizes, he said, the farm work taken on by the Flemish in Canada and the United States, including the harvesting of sugar beets in the area.

Columbus said his wife’s parents came to Canada from Belgium in the late 1940s, “like so many others” to block sugar beets.

The formidable artwork was transported in 2005 with support from the Belgian Ministry of Defence to Andrews Air Force Base near Washington D.C. and then by truck to Delhi.

The Vandenbussches often bring groups of tourists to the Delhi area. Saturday marked their 24th trip.

Ludwig was emotional when he talked about the statue and its new home at the museum.

“For Belgian-Canadian immigrants it means a great deal to their families. Every nation in east and west Europe can relate to this. It exemplifies all immigrants who went through the process in the 1940s and ’50s.”

mruby@postmedia.com