Fake plaque reading ‘Battle of Billings Bridge’ disappears
A bronze plaque commemorating the February 2022 convoy counter-blockade that became known as the Battle of Billings Bridge has disappeared just hours after it was first taped to a concrete wall at the corner of Riverside Drive and Bank Street.
At first glance, the plaque, which appeared Thursday, bore all the hallmarks of an official historical marker, including the logo of the City of Ottawa.
But the city told CBC on Friday that it neither installed nor removed the plaque overnight, adding to the mystery.
The marker read: “Here on February 13, 2022, ordinary citizens and members of the Ram Ranch Resistance peacefully stood in the way of those who had trampled on citizens’ rights to peace, freedom of movement and freedom of expression.”
“This plaque commemorates the ordinary people who did something extraordinary when their leaders did not.”
Many anti-convoy protesters began calling themselves the Ram Ranch Resistance after other counter-protesters popularized the song Ram Ranch – a lewd song about gay cowboys – to disrupt online conversations between convoy supporters.
Sean Burges, a professor at Carleton University, said the plaque’s appearance came as a pleasant surprise – much like the number of people who gathered at the bridge, after he published a Facebook post urging members of the community were to join him to prevent convoy protesters coming downtown.
“It was normal moms and dads and grandpas and grannies … who came out and just said, ‘Enough. Protest what you want, but you’ve overtaken the city and you’re abusing people.
Burges said the counter-protest began around 9:00 a.m. with just 15 people and grew to a crowd of hundreds over the course of nine hours.
The day the tide turned
Burges recalled the crowd shouting “Whose streets? Our streets!” sang. as they blocked a growing line of cars and trucks from getting onto the bridge.
“There was no planning for that, no clear agenda, other than just saying ‘go home,'” he said.
Robert Ramsay, who lives in Old Ottawa South, was also present at the so-called battle. He said community members like himself are being forced to take matters into their own hands in the third weekend of anti-pandemic rule and anti-government protest.
“We really felt that we had been let down by the city leadership, the police and several levels of government,” he said.
That’s why Ottawa resident Andrea Harden said she’s at the forefront of the counterprotest. At one point, she said, a truck tried to get through the crowd “rolling very slowly.”
“I had my back against the truck … and said, ‘No, you stop here and we don’t allow you to go downtown,'” she recalled.
“That was the beginning, so to speak, that moment.”
What ensued was an “intense” standoff between convoy participants and counter-protesters, but Harden said the latter party succeeded in the end.
“We turned every single one of those trucks and made it very clear that they weren’t supposed to be driving … to join the convoy,” she said.
“That was really the moment that turned the tide in this cast.”
Plaque remains a mystery
The city of Ottawa told CBC News in an email statement Thursday that it was “reviewing the matter,” but didn’t say if it would remove the plaque. It was gone by Friday morning, and the city said it wasn’t responsible.
Harden, Ramsay and Burges said Thursday they would like to see it stay – although who installed it remains a mystery.
Burges said he was “vaguely embarrassed” that he wasn’t the person behind the plaque, but thought it was “wonderful”, should stay and did a better job than most plaques in history.
“The fact that someone independently decided to create a plaque that sends out the message that this neighborhood values freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of movement…is a very powerful statement,” he said.
“It’s really meaningful for most of us.”