A 10-storey war memorial proposed for Cape Breton Highlands National Park is plagued with controversy, but a star-studded list of honorary patrons continue to throw their names behind the project.
The list of patrons boasts a former prime minister, celebrated artists and high-profile journalists.
The Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation wants to build a $25-million memorial to Canada’s war dead on a stretch of the trail between Ingonish and Neils Harbour. The memorial’s centrepiece is a statue dubbed Mother Canada. It would be 30 metres high and feature a woman with her arms outstretched toward Europe.
A group of 28 former senior Parks Canada managers wrote a scathing letter to the federal environment minister calling it “inappropriate,” saying the statue goes against the “ecological integrity” of the park.
Their move follows a newly formed citizens group called the Friends of Green Cove, which is calling for Parks Canada to hold a public meeting where people can state their views. The citizens group is made up of scientists, activists and people who live in the Highlands.
An official with the foundation says she doesn’t believe any of their 30 listed honorary patrons have dropped their support in light of the vocal opposition. However, NDP MP Peter Stoffer, one of the patrons, says he’s heard some are “monitoring it very closely.”
Who is a patron?
The list of honorary patrons includes journalists like CBC National host Peter Mansbridge and commentator Rex Murphy, CTV’s chief anchor Lisa LaFlamme and former host Lloyd Robertson.
A spokesperson for Bell Media says Robertson and LaFlamme still support the idea of the project.
“While the location of the statue is still in question, their support for the commemoration of Canada’s war dead is unwavering,” said Matthew Garrow.
“As patrons they will, in good faith, abide by the decision of the required Detailed Impact Analysis as to where the proposed memorial will eventually reside.”
Mansbridge says no money or donations are involved to be an honorary patron.
“About a month ago, I received a very short form letter asking me to reconsider support but giving no detailed reasons why. No one else has approached me as far as I know,” he wrote in an email.
“I will go on a search for the new wave [of opposition] and see whether there’s a reason to change my position.”
The president of the Calgary Flames, Brian Burke, artist Susan Aglukark and philanthropist Margaret McCain dot the roster.
Valerie Brennan, vice president of the Amherst Group, says she has no plans to retract her support in light of the community’s reaction.
“The first people who get out there with the message is always the naysayers…and all the more to them. They have questions that should be answered. There will always be someone saying not in my backyard please,” she said.
“I’m wholeheartedly in support of it. I think it’s a wonderful thing to contribute a small fraction of our great country to that kind of a project.”
A number of politicians are also on the list, including former prime minister John Turner, outgoing Central Nova MP Peter MacKay, Nova Scotia Senator Michael L. MacDonald, former Quebec premier Jean Charest and former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna.
Liberal MP Mark Eyking says as an honorary patron, he’s briefed on the statue.
‘Should it be tweaked on how it looks? Maybe.’
– MP Mark Eyking
“It’s just an honorary role. I’m an honorary highlander but I’m not part of the army,” the Sydney-Victoria representative said.
He says despite the backlash, he still supports the idea of the statute, especially since it’s from private donations.
Eyking says the memorial could be a drive for Cape Breton’s tourism industry. Still, he says he’s open to more talks with First Nations and fishing groups along with more environmental consultations.
“I think they’re making a mistake by not taking their time. I think it’s in the government’s interest to say bring it on,” said Eyking.
Decorated veterans have lent their support, including retired vice-admiral Larry Murray, now the grand president of the Royal Canadian Legion, and retired gen. Paul D. Manson, former chief of the defence staff.
Peter Stoffer, the NDP’s federal veterans affairs critic, says he’ll continue to support the project as long as it meets environmental standards, is privately funded and there’s community consultation.
“If those conditions aren’t met in any way, I would reconsider my view,” he said.
The plan, approved by Parks Canada, is to build the war memorial on a nearly one-hectare piece of land in Green Cove, N.S.
Besides the Mother Canada statue, the plan also includes parking for 300 vehicles, a restaurant, souvenir shop and an interpretive centre.
It’s scheduled to be completed in 2017.
“The meaning of the statue I’m totally for it,” he said. “It’s a noble thing they’re doing…Should it be tweaked on how it looks? Maybe.”