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Letter from Bellevue Park Grotto architect (4 images)

By SooToday.com Staff
SooToday.com
Friday, June 10, 2011

SooToday.com has received the following letter from Jim Colizza, architect for the proposed Bellevue Park Grotto.

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Grotto debate: The architects’ view

The Grotto proposed for Bellevue Park is not only a religious statue in the park; it is much more than this and it does serve the public at large.

Therefore, it does belong in a public space accessible to all.

The residents of the Soo should be aware that the design for the Grotto takes a series of diverse elements and weaves them into a story about the history of Sault Ste. Marie.

Inherently obvious in this historical narrative is the Soo’s relationship to the Blessed Virgin Mary (See
page 24 in Frances M. Heath’s book Sault Ste. Marie: City by the Rapids).

The proposed Grotto is not like any other in the world because its conception is specific to the Soo.

In a very public way, it is a testament to the critical layers of history that make the Soo, the City by
the rapids.

To begin with, the Grotto is a “defined space” within the park; it is sufficiently “enclosed” so people experience a sense of intimacy yet open enough so one still has a sense of being in nature at the water’s edge.

The Grotto space is created by three intersecting walls.

In a way, this idea makes reference to the fact that geographically, the Soo is at the intersection of three of the Great Lakes.

Each of the three walls represents a distinct period in the history of the Soo.

The first wall is formed by a double row of birch trees running 150 feet in a straight line from near the water’s edge northerly into the park.

This “wall of nature” represents the earliest period in the history of Sault Ste. Marie – that of the natural landscape.

A second wall of reddish sandstone curves through the wall of trees and continues at varying heights to form a large circle.

The use of sandstone makes reference to some of the earliest constructions in the Soo, like, the buildings at the Locks, the former Post Office at Queen and East Streets and numerous Churches of various denominations in the Soo.

The circle shape suggests the importance attached to the concept of the circle by the Aboriginals.

The circle of life is at the heart of their value systems, philosophy and religion.

This sandstone wall speaks of permanence and represents another period, that of building, in the history of the Soo.

The third wall and closest to the water is made of steel I-beams stacked one on the other.

This wall has a series of “slit” openings which frame views of St. Marys River.

Some of these openings are glazed with clear and coloured glass and the glass is etched with the names of the residents and organizations in the Soo who have contributed to the making of the Grotto and the Soo.

This steel wall makes a gesture to the ships travelling the St. Marys River as well as the contribution industry, especially Algoma
Steel, has made to the evolution of the Soo – another period in the history of the city.

A flat horizontal roof (implying rest and peacefulness) covers part of the Grotto space formed by the three intersecting walls.

In a practical sense this roof offers weather protection to all park users and helps achieve a sense of intimacy.

But more importantly, rising out of and above the roof plane is a rectangular cupola formed by eight reclaimed stained glassed windows from the former Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church which was the third Italian church established in Canada in 1910 after Montreal and Toronto.

And yes, at the intersection of the curved sandstone wall and the steel wall, in a pool of water stands a statue of Our Lady at the Rapids,
assuming her place in this historical narrative of Sault Ste Marie.

With proper night lighting, especially in a blanket of snow, the Grotto would appear as a sculpture in the park.

A sculpture with a multi-coloured beacon (the stained glass cupola) rising out of it, to be enjoyed from a distance, especially flying into the Soo along St. Marys River.

These are some of the diverse elements that make up the design of the Grotto – it is not just a religious statue in the park.

I feel it is important for people to understand this so that they can make an informed decision regarding appropriateness.

Selfishly, I hope and pray that the Grotto goes ahead, so my children and their grandchildren will have a place to visit to be reminded of the things that make being from the Soo so special.

In closing this sensitive writing, I can’t help but think of my father.

He was a simple and wise man.

He tried to teach his 13 children that, in this very different world, nothing is perfect – only through tolerance and patience do good things happen.

- Jim Colizza, who with Gord Mezzomo and Anthony Bruni are the architects for the Grotto

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