Guido Nincheri was an Italian-born painter who is honoured by the Vatican as one of the great interpreters of religious themes. His adopted city of Montreal named a park after him in 1992. Photo/public domain

Montreal reverses decision to rename park that memorializes ‘Canada’s Michelangelo’

By  Alan Hustak, Catholic Register Special
  • November 30, 2016

MONTREAL – Responding to a public outcry the City of Montreal has reversed a controversial decision to rename a park that memorializes a famous artist known as “Canada’s Michelangelo.”

The park near the Olympic Stadium is named after Guido Nincheri. The accomplished Italian-born artist is honoured by the Vatican as one of the great interpreters of religious themes and was designated as a national historic person in 2007. His adopted city of Montreal honoured him in 1992, during its 350th anniversary by proclaiming him “a builder of Montreal” and dedicating the park to him.

Nincheri created murals, frescos and stained-glass windows for more than a hundred churches across Canada and New England throughout the 20th century until his death in 1973. His masterpieces are considered to be the Church of Saint-Léon-de-Westmount and the 125 windows he created for the Cathedral of The Assumption in Trois Rivières.

As Montreal prepares for its 375th birthday, officials announced two weeks ago that the park would be stripped of Nincheri’s name and redesigned to accommodate a birthday gift of public art from Quebec City. The work consists of four columns topped by athletic figures representing significant dates in the city’s history.

In recognition of the gesture from the province’s capital city, the green space was to be rechristened Park Ville du Quebec.

The announcement immediately sparked public protests and petitions were organized by Nincheri supporters demanding that the city rescind its plans. It worked. On Nov. 27 Mayor Denis Coderre called the artist’s grandson, Roger Nincheri, to inform the family that the city would leave well enough alone.

“He called me personally to tell me they are keeping the name as it is,” Nincheri said. “That is what I call being gracious. I’m dancing on a cloud.”

The grandson had previously said the city’s name-change proposal was “typical of bureaucratic ignorance.”

Coderre told The Catholic Register that a compromise had been worked out in which a section of the park will be designated Place du Quebec, but that the name of the park itself will remain unchanged.

Among those who opposed the intent to rename the park was Halifax’s Archbishop Anthony Mancini, a former Montrealer.

“I don’t understand the city’s motivation,” he said before the city’s about-face. “It is an unusual and unfortunate decision taken to diminish the reputation of master of ecclesiastical art. He has left his mark. They just named the park to recognize and to rehabilitate his reputation, so why do they now want to remove his name?”

Paul Carvalho, who produced the film biography, Windows to Heaven, the Art and Life of Guido Nincheri, had called the decision to strip Nincheri’s name from the park “shameful, a blatant ignorance of history and heritage.”

“There is no one in the Canadian experience who can quite compare with him,” Carvalho said. “No one was quite as prolific, and for that reason alone he is important.”

Nincheri came from a tradition that didn’t exist in Canada when he arrived here in 1915. He had Florentine training, and his choice of glowing colours — shades of purples, mauves, and pinks — were cutting edge for North America.

His most controversial work, a study of Benito Mussolini, was commissioned in the 1930s to celebrate the 1929 Lateran Treaty in which the Italian fascist leader recognized the Vatican as an independent state. The fresco can still be seen above the altar at Notre Dame de la Défense in Montreal.

The work landed the artist in a Second World War internment camp for three months in 1940, suspected of being a fascist sympathizer along with hundreds of other Italian-born Canadians.

When Nincheri was released, he moved to Rhode Island, but continued to work in Canada as well. He died at age 87 and is buried in Montreal’s Notre Dame de Neiges cemetery.

(Hustak is a writer in Montreal.)

Canada michelangelo paintingThe art of Italian-Canadian Guido Nincheri adorns more than 100 North American churches, mostly in Quebec. In the early 1920s he painted a large fresco in Saint-Léon de Westmount in Montreal, a portion of which is shown above, in which he included himself peering over the shoulder of his wife and son. (Photo courtesy of Alan Hustak)

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