'Honouring Ruth': statue of immigration museum founder coming to Pier 21
HALIFAX -- It's only fitting that the idea to create a permanent tribute to the driving force behind the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 came to be outside Pier 21.
That's where Karen Conter found herself back in 2017, in the pouring rain, at an event launching a "virtual sculpture" of Ruth Goldbloom.
"You had to download an app," Conter recalls, "and then you would point (your phone) towards the statue of Cunard, and there would be a picture of Ruth and a write-up."
That got Conter thinking right on the spot about creating an actual statue of Goldbloom. People she talked to at the event thought it was a good idea. So she reached out to Goldbloom's family.
At first, says Goldbloom's son, Dr. David Goldbloom, there was some hesitation. "I had never contemplated there being a statue to my mother," he says.
"Anybody who knew her would be baffled by the idea of her sitting still," he chuckles from his Toronto office.
But, he adds, it didn't take long to get him and the family on board.
"When I heard more, about really what the purpose was," Dr. Goldbloom says, "which is to both honour her, to honour the work she did in helping to create Pier 21, and to create a kind of landmark, with my mother doing the one thing that she always loved to do, which was to welcome people to Pier 21."
Ruth Goldbloom died in 2012 at the age of 88. Known for her diminutive, yet commanding, presence, and for her fundraising prowess, Goldboom dedicated many years of her life to volunteerism.
Born to Russian Jewish immigrants who came to Nova Scotia in 1913, Goldbloom co-founded the Pier 21 Society in 1990, and was instrumental in helping create the museum at the site, which is now Canada's second national museum outside of Ottawa – the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.
In light of that, it only makes sense her statue will be outside the main building to greet visitors.
"Ruth will be sitting on a bench, to the right of the entrance of Pier 21," says Conter. "There's room for a couple people to sit beside her, and (it's) brought out a bit so people can stand behind her and get group pictures."
"With Ruthie's story, and her contribution to Canadian history," she adds, "maybe this will spread across the country, with women being honoured in this way."
Karen and her husband, Dr. Howard Conter, took on the task for fundraising for the project, with the help of Pier 21, the Halifax Port Authority, and the Atlantic Jewish Council.
So far, they've raised more than $260,000. The plan is to use the funds not only for the statue, but for an educational bursary for Canadian students, along with immigration research.
Dr. Howard Conter says that's something Goldbloom would have approved of. Unlike the sculpture, he jokes, which he thinks she would have likely scoffed at.
"If you'd ask Ruth now, 'Do you want this in front of Pier 21?'" he says, "(she would have said) 'No!'"
"But, now that she's passed," he adds, "In her memory, I think it's vital for people to know that the driving force, the most important reason why we have an immigration museum in Halifax, open to the whole world, is because of the power of Ruth Goldbloom."
The artist creating the work is Newfoundland sculptor Morgan MacDonald, perhaps most well-known in the Maritimes for crafting the monument honouring the three RCMP officers shot and killed in Moncton in 2014.
MacDonald has been working on the bronze sculpture of Goldbloom since late last year. It will be his first work installed in Nova Scotia.
Dr. Goldbloom says MacDonald has put a lot of effort and time into "getting it right."
"To capture not only the physical appearance, but also the spirit of my mother, and that's a tall order to fill in honour of a short woman," he laughs.
The unveiling of the statue was supposed to be this month, but has been postponed due to pandemic restrictions.
The hope -- if restrictions relax enough – is to officially welcome Ruth Goldbloom's likeness to Pier 21 on Oct. 3.