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Pave Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot

November 13, 2014

Traveling south on the ruggedly beautiful Cabot Trail, one arrives at Neil’s Harbour, the north gate of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Six miles further along lies Green Cove, one of the most picturesque sites in Cape Breton. A short boardwalk from the highway-side parking area leads to a visitor viewing platform that is one of the ‘official’ look-offs onto the Atlantic Ocean.

This rocky windswept headland, jutting out into the sea, is, according to Acadia University geology professor Sandra Barr, a geological hotspot. It is the best, most accessible exposure of a particular rock unit called the Black Brook granitic suite, formed 375 million years ago. Tragically, if Toronto businessman Tony Trigiani gets his way, this environmentally sensitive pristine arm of pink granite will soon be paved over.

Trigiani, President of food packaging company Norstar Corp., has a dream. He wants to build a war memorial on the spot “to commemorate and honour Canadians who fell in overseas wars, conflicts and peacekeeping missions.” This memorial, to be called “Remembrance Point”, will be dominated by the soaring “Mother Canada”, an adaptation of the much more modestly scaled “Canada Bereft”, the statue that stands over the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France. Although I could find no reference to its size on the website set up by Trigiani and his Never Forgotten Memorial Foundation, I have seen the statue described by various sources from 18 to 30 meters in height. A “We See Thee Rise Observation Deck” will be built in front of it, and behind it “The Commemorative Ring of True Patriot Love,” a low wall featuring metal plaques naming the international cemeteries where Canadian soldiers are buried with lists of those interred in each. He’s also planning a “With Glowing Hearts National Sanctuary” that will feature capsules of soil from oversees cemeteries, as well as a contemplation pavilion, a restaurant, souvenir shop and interpretive centre, as well as parking for about 300 vehicles. A full description of the proposed project can be found at

Trigiani plans to raise the $30 to $60 million dollars needed to finance his dream using corporate and private donations, but somehow projects of this nature often end up dipping into the public purse. Already Parks Canada has donated a hectare of prime parkland for the site, and is undertaking the requisite environmental assessments. In a time of shrinking Parks budgets and rising costs, it seems counterintuitive to take on a questionable project.

I cannot see how participation in this venture fits with the Parks Canada’s role as a steward of nature. It seems to me to be a profound betrayal of its publically stated commitment “to protect, as a first priority, the natural and cultural heritage of our special places and ensure that they remain healthy and whole.” Even if the memorial does through some logical alchemy fall within the agency’s mandate, I think it highly questionable that an individual can plunk down his personal dream in a national park without extensive input from the citizenry of Canada.

Yet public consultation has so far been limited to a couple of town hall meetings in tiny remote communities near the proposed project site. Although Trigiani says he is open to debate, in the face of criticism he has shown his intransigence to altering his plan in any meaningful way. I fear larger public consultations will not be held until the project is a fait accompli.

The entire unfolding of this project is problematic. Trigiani’s consultations with the federal government were cloaked in secrecy. There was no design competition, no assessment of the suitability of the memorial or the artistic merit of the revised “Mother Canada”. Although Trigiani crows that his giant statue has been lovingly and respectfully modeled after “Canada Bereft”, some prominent artists have declared the design an embarrassment to Canada and an insult to the creator of the original, Toronto sculptor Walter Seymour Allward. Additionally, unlike Vimy, central to the site of the conflict where thousands fell, this memorial will be entirely without context.

The Harper government is on board, giving approval for the project in its characteristic “behind closed doors” fashion. The project is a good fit for its mission of rebranding Canada from a nation of peacekeepers to a nation of warriors. Promoting a chest-beating American-style patriotism that celebrates military exploits over social progress, Conservatives have spun a new national historic narrative that is both anachronistic and counterfactual. However it aligns nicely with their hawkish political values and vision. The Harper government knows well that Canadians are generally ill informed about their own history, and will therefore readily swallow specious depictions of our nation’s past if those depictions are rousing enough to feed their egos.

The target date for the opening of Remembrance Point is July 1, 2017, the 150th anniversary of Confederation and the centenary of the monument’s central focus, the Battle of Vimy Ridge. That date is expected to be the crescendo for the Conservative’s program of changing how Canadians think about their country.

It is readily apparent, however, that the government is enamoured only with the departed servicemen envisioned in our collective national memory. It has demonstrated through its recent closing of eight Veterans Affairs offices its lack of commitment to supporting living veterans in a generous and humane fashion.

While I have deep reservations about this particular project, it is not war memorials themselves that are the point of contention. I have great respect for those who served and lost their lives. What rankles me is the celebration of war. I believe we must face the truth: it was the self-serving hidebound thinking of politicians and others with power that sacrificed hundreds of thousands of Canadians, most of them young, on the altar of imperialism. I personally take issue with attempts to distort reality, to reframe the senseless slaughter that is war as something just and sacred.

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Perhaps there is a place for this memorial, but it is not this sea-sprayed promontory in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 13, 2014 8:07 pm

    a quote from garnet rogers,”now it’s a park for the god damn tourists, and he won’t go there any more” ………

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