Statue of Wartime Female “Sparks” planned

Fern Blodgett Sunde could be called a heroine but she was certainly a trail-blazer – she was a Radio Operator during World War 2 when women were not allowed in the Canadian Navy, not even the Merchant Navy.  Not giving up on what she wanted to do, she signed on to a Norwegian ship and made 78 crossings of the Atlantic during the Battle of the Atlantic.  I’d call that heroic and certainly worth commemorating with a statue.  And that’s what Leona Woods wants to do, commission a statue of her and have it erected in a prominent place on Cobourg’s waterfront.  Leona has teamed up with Sudbury sculptor Tyler Fauvelle and together they made a presentation to Cobourg Council on July 23.  The cost will be $135,000 plus installation but they were not looking for any cash contribution from the Town – just site preparation.

Fern Blodgett Sunde - model of statue
Fern Blodgett Sunde – model of statue

The photo at right is of a model of the proposed bronze sculpture – looks good although personally I don’t like the part at the back – I’d prefer a more traditional base – see photo below of another sculpture by Tyler.

Why a Statue of Fern?

The story of Fern is inspiring.  In 1918, when Fern Blodgett was born, Canada was still more than 80 years away from opening sea duty to women on all Navy vessels.  Determined to serve her country during the Second World War, she broke educational barriers to become the first Canadian woman to certify as a professional wireless radio operator.

Unlike Canada and Britain, Norway had no rule for or against women serving at sea. Although a young Norwegian captain was a little shocked to find that “F. Blodgett” was a woman, there was a shortage of “Sparks” – wireless radio operators – and he took a chance on the spirited young woman who very much wanted the job. In 1941, Fern became the first Canadian woman to serve as a radio operator at sea, working as an officer aboard a Norwegian vessel in the Allied Merchant Navy during the Battle of the Atlantic. It was incredibly dangerous work – some 3500 vessels were lost at sea, the majority of them merchant vessels. She carried out her duties bravely and well, making 78 Atlantic crossings on the Mosdale. Remarkably, Fern Blodgett Sunde was also the first woman ever to receive the Norwegian War Medal.

Fern opened the door for twenty-two young women, new “Sparks”, who followed her to sea. As for Gerner Sunde, the Norwegian captain who hired Fern, little did he know that he had just met his future wife. 

See below for more detail on her story.

Why Cobourg?

Sample Statue by Tyler Fauvelle
Sample Statue by Tyler Fauvelle

Although Fern did not live all her life in Cobourg, she spent 20 formative years here – from infancy onwards. For years, she watched the ships from the shore of Lake Ontario at Cobourg, dreaming of becoming a sailor, even though she knew that only boys could crew ships at sea.

The proposed location of the statue would be at the “east end of the waterfront, close to the walking path.”

Benefits

The main goals of the commemoration are:

  • honour Fern Blodgett Sunde, her wartime service to Canada, and her role in the advancement of women
  • honour and educate about Canadian (and Allied) merchant mariners’ essential role during the Battle of the Atlantic
  • talk about science and technology as a career path for youth, particularly young girls and women
  • celebrate with an unveiling event, which will attract citizens, visitors, and positive news coverage
  • inspire more public art and heritage activities, using Cobourg’s rich history as a springboard to new and engaging projects

Organization

Leona has recruited Peter Delanty to start a steering committee and they are looking for 2-3 more citizens to join them.  They have already consulted with members of the Sunde and Blodgett families (Norway and Peterborough, respectively) and they strongly support the proposed commemoration.

Funding

The intent is to look for a Federal grant to cover 50% of the cost with the hope of getting approval by the end of February 2019.  The balance would be sourced from the Private sector – perhaps one or more Canadian women CEOs would help out?

Council reaction

All councillors seemed supportive although Leona was asked to submit her request for an in-kind contribution for site preparation through the Municipal grant approval process.  Mayor Gil Brocanier commented that the Town was recently quoted $250K for a Statue of James Cockburn; Tyler said that he thought that $250K was “very high”.  The issue was referred to staff for a report at the August Council meeting.

It is hoped to have the unveiling celebration in 2020 – possibly October which is Women’s History Month in Canada.

Links

Update

At the Committee of the Whole Council meeting and follow up regular council meeting on August 13, Council approved $5,000 for the installation of the statue as described above.  They will also provide the letter of support as required in the application to the Federal Government for funding.

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Arthur Seymour

As a former “sparks” professional wireless radio operator , for two years, prior to electronics aviation engineering, I can certainly relate to the risks this lady took . An old friend of mine (now 97) made many crossings as “sparks”and had been on board two ships while being sunk by German Subs in WW2. I happen to have an original Morse Code Key , the exact type she might have used. Since this was her main “instrument of war”, it seems to me that any physical portrayal of her contribution to the ‘war effort” should show her sitting , using a Morse Code Key.

Art

Dubious

I don’t think that there is any doubt that those who served on WWII merchant ships showed enormous courage and we should all be in awe of their efforts. My point was that Ms. Blodgett has a somewhat tenuous connection to Cobourg. Choosing to erect a statue should have absolutely no connection to bringing tourists to Cobourg or advertising our great little town. Honouring her simply because of her sex while ignoring hundreds of others who took the same risks is both disrespectful and ridiculous.

Small Town Lover

There are wonderful sculptures in the waterfront park and other forms of art in Brockville . Their waterfront is stunning. I think Cobourg would benefit by doing the same.

Rusty Brown

“…Sudbury sculptor Tyler Fauvelle” also known as Tyler Fauville (2x) and Tyler Fauvette (4x) in a single article written by a local reporter.
https://northumberland897.ca/news/2018/7/24/cobourg-council-news

Tim

Your two postings are the funniest I’ve ever read!

john

thanks

Rusty Brown

Reminds me of the “Ugly Lucy” statue of Lucille Ball that got so much notoriety for its grotesque appearance. One way to get a bit of publicity for Cobourg, I suppose. I agree with those who believe a simple plaque would be sufficient.
http://news.wbfo.org/post/new-sculptor-fix-scary-lucy-statue

Miriam Mutton

Amazing story about an amazing woman.

Recognizing that the model piece is just that, a model, it is a reminder that public art must go through a transparent process. And, even if the cost of the statue does not require public funds the location is public, and security and long term care will become part of the community obligations.

The artist’s other finished works are beautiful and evoke an emotional response by their design and setting. However, it is unclear to me how this project fits in. Were there pictures shown to Council showing the location with artwork (computer generated). Also, this project model immediately suggested to me it was fashioned after ‘Fearless Girl’, a statue of a young girl installed to face down a larger than life bull sculpture in New York’s Wall Street district.

Bill Thompson

The Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS)was established 1942 a separate branch from the RCN and referred to as “Wrens”

Tim

Fern Blodgett Sunde was certainly a heroine and, when she was born, women in Ontario had only had the vote for one year. It makes me very happy to think that she spent her early life in Cobourg and was inspired by looking out at our beautiful lake and I’d love to see her honoured. But to commemorate her life and accomplishments with such a “sculpture” would be a mistake. It is a very undistinguished work of art — terrible proportion, terrible base. I’m also very suspicious of the “list of benefits”, things like attracting citizens, visitors and positive news coverage; encouraging science and technology; inspiring more public art. What’s that about, except selling a bad idea. This is a make-work scheme for an artist — attach yourself to a local heroine, get a few local politicians involved but emphasize that you’re not looking for a cash contribution from the town — just a site preparation, but what is that going to cost the people of Cobourg? The artist hopes to get 50% from the federal government in the form of a grant and that’s when the begging bowl comes out. But nothing is expected from the people of Cobourg,… Read more »

Dubious

Well said!

Last night there was little mention that Ms. Blodget worked as a radio operator on a Norwegian ship, married the Norwegian captain of her ship and lived her adult life in Norway.

Albert

Britain and Canada refused to have women on vessels as radio operators, Canadian officials declaring, “Good God no, we have enough trouble on ships now without having women on board!”
Thus her contribution was to the Norwegian war effort.
Furthermore, as a native of Regina, Mrs. Sunde’s connection to Cobourg is slight.
And let’s face it. The model is ugly.
Also. should she not be wearing a skirt, rather than these hideous trousers?

Wendy

Tyler’s grandfather was commissioned to do a statue in Haileybury and it is breathtaking.
It commemorates the tragic fire of 1922, depicting a father handing a child to the mom who is standing in water. My family donated toward this as our grandparents lost everything in this fire.
I hope this proceeds smoothly as the Fauvelles have an excellent reputation.

Wendy

We made a donation for a plaque with our families name long with others in the community but not towards the life size statue.