Toronto’s Bangladeshi community appears, at last, to be getting a permanent monument to language freedom that many of its members sought for decades.
A concrete structure in Dentonia Park near Victoria Park Station will be the site of midnight ceremonies to mark International Mother Language Day (IMLD) every Feb. 21.
Mayor Tory and Councillor Bradford joined the official groundbreaking on Saturday.
IMLD has come to symbolize a struggle for identity, values and culture of the Bangla people and diverse communities around the world. The monument is being built entirely by funds raised by a community organizing committee and in partnership with the City of Toronto.
Bradford said, “This monument is in keeping with the Toronto story of fighting for diversity and inclusion. Everything about this monument is inspiring, from the history of International Mother Language Day being recognized itself to how Canada’s largest Bengali community came together to deliver this monument over several years. Tireless volunteer efforts and donations from local businesses and community members made this happen. The monument is going to be beautiful. It will be a permanent home for the annual International Mother Language Day service held every at midnight every February 21st, and it will be something that prompts discussion and dialogue in our community, something that makes the diversity of this city so special.”
Tory said, “Constructing this monument is not only a proud moment for the Bengali community who have led this effort over many years, but for residents across our diverse city who cherish their mother language. Over 180 languages and dialects are spoken in Toronto. The International Mother Language monument is about recognizing the effort of people around the world, including in our own diverse city, to not just have their traditional language be accepted but to see it embraced.’
Before Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan, Urdu was the sole national language for what are now two countries. On Feb. 21, 1952, students in Dhaka were killed when police opened fire during protests Bengali speakers held in support of their language.
IMLD is commemorated on this day each year in Bangladesh, and by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide.
The Organization for Toronto International Mother Language Day Monument (OTIMLM) has been working formally since 2014 to make the monument a reality. In October 2017 City Council approved donation of a monument to be placed at the entrance to Taylor Creek and authorized a donation up to $250,000 in value. City staff and OTIMLD spent 1-2 years trying to confirm a design and raise necessary funds for the monument.
Councillor Bradford worked with staff and various groups in the Bengali community to expand the OTIMLD board and bring together various groups to secure the monument. In September 2019, Mayor Tory, Cllr Bradford and other dignitaries attended a fundraiser where attendees pledged more than the needed $250,000 required for the monument.
In December 2019, Council approved a motion to change the monument location to Dentonia Park, at the request of community leaders. City Parks staff worked closely with the OTIMLD board on design elements and to ensure that the funds have been raised to deliver the monument. The monument is expected to be completed by February 2021.
Photo credit: Collected