The New Taipei City (新北市) Government has decided to save the late Canadian missionary George Leslie Mackay from drowning.
A bronze statue of Mackay on one knee, praying, on Tamsui District’s (淡水) Golden Shore between the Tamsui MRT station and the ferry pier, has often been underwater during the June to September typhoon season since it was installed in 2007.
The statue’s plight has made it an unusual tourist hotspot and also a subject of ridicule, prompting calls for the city government to seek a solution.
The city agreed on Monday to increase the height of the 1m-tall sculpture’s pedestal to keep it above the waves.
Mackay, a physician, arrived in present-day Tamsui in 1872, and lived in Taiwan until he died from throat cancer in 1901, by which time his reputation for selfless dedication to Taiwan was well-established.
He offered free medical treatment — eventually with the assistance of five other foreign physicians based in Tamsui — as part of his missionary work. He founded the first Western medical center in northern Taiwan in 1880, the Mackay Hospital.
The hospital was relocated to Taipei in 1911 and renamed the Mackay Memorial Hospital.
The Canadian also established churches and schools, including the first school for girls in Taiwan, the Tamsui Girls’ School.
Tamsui District Administrator Tsai Ye-wei (蔡葉偉) said the sculpture was erected on the spot where Mackay first landed in Tamsui as part of the first stage of the Danshui Art Gallery, a public area designed as a display and exchange platform for artists.
“Since the installation, the Tamsui River inundates the floodplains at both ends of the walkway during high tides and then gradually swallows the statue, creating a negative impression on the public,” he said.
Danshui Presbyterian Church minister Tsai Wei-lun (蔡維倫) said he has been saddened to see the statue, which was erected to honor Mackay’s philanthropy and dedication to Taiwan, reduced to acting as a “water meter” by some reporters covering typhoon-related flooding and storms.
“Such behavior is completely disrespectful to Dr Mackay and also the churches and people [of Tamsui],” Tsai Wei-lun said.
The frequent flooding has also raised concerns that the Golden Shore, which was constructed on reclaimed land, could suffer from land subsidence or have its foundations hollowed out.
New Taipei City Government Secretary-General Chen Shen-hsien (陳伸賢) said the flooding near the sculpture has never caused damage to local residences or impeded the operations of stores.
“However, since the statue always becomes the center of media attention when a typhoon hits the nation — which could give the public the wrong impression that the city government is not doing enough to prevent flooding — we have instructed the Water Resources Bureau to increase the height of the statue’s pedestal by 60cm before the flood season begins in May,” Chen said.
Water Resources Bureau Secretary-General Yang Tsung-min said the flooding was most likely caused by tidal changes rather than by land subsidence.
The average tide range in the area is about 1.6m and can reach more than 2m during typhoons and spring tides, Yang said.