November 1, 2014
To the Honourary Vice-Chairs, Ambassadors, Honourary Patrons, Volunteer Directors and Executive Advisors, and Board of Directors: Never Forgotten National Memorial;
As Armistice Day approaches, November 11th, I have on my mind the proposed memorial at Green Cove, which is said, “will usher in an exciting new era of commemoration, one allowing Canadians to honour and respect Our Fallen in a manner never previously experienced or possibly even imagined.” That I can’t imagine what exactly this experience will be is likely my failing, but I do have a few concerns about the project I’d like to present to you today.
I will say immediately I am not against war memorials, and I am not against the Green Cove memorial. I lived and worked in Ottawa, raised my children there. Every year my husband and I attended the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph, a memorial we passed almost daily, which has recently, and tragically, become the “iconic” memorial to soldiers in Canada since the death of Cpl. Cirillo. The Cenotaph ceremony allowed me to honour dead and serving Forces members, and provided a chance to personally honour my grandfathers, who fought in World War I, one having spent time in a German prisoner of war camp, and to recall my uncles, who fought in, and survived, World War II. My father was in the Naval Reserve when the war ended.
The ceremony also gave me a chance to remember my uncle Roy Schnarr, an RCAF flyer who died when his plane malfunctioned in a test flight in New Brunswick, on November 11, 1943. He was 20 years old. He never made it overseas. His mother, my grandmother, never understood how his death had served Canada. The day she was told of his accident, she put away a quilt she was working on and didn’t touch it again until the early 1980s when she came to visit me in Ottawa. We took her to the Peace Tower where the custodian of the Book of Remembrance turned the pages to find Roy’s name. She was moved to tears to see his name there with so many other war dead. In some way it legitimized his death in her mind and heart. That is a powerful memorial, a book of names, one that could open the heart of a mother grieving for over 40 years. When she returned home, my grandmother finished the quilt she had put away, and today it is in my mother’s bedroom, another kind of memorial, an intimate and domestic one.
As you can see, I am not against memorials. My reservation about the Never Forgotten memorial arose when I realized no one seemed to know the process for development of the monument nor who would pay for it. When I looked at your website and saw the scale of the monument -- a enormous statue -- and realized the amount of concrete that would be needed to support it and the parking lots for the many Cabot Trail visitors expected. I worried development would possibly destroy, but certainly transform, a beautiful natural outcrop, already an active tourist stop, into something that I was not yet sure would truly honour the military. I worried what the mentioned “marketing opportunities” meant and what the gift shop would sell and where those gifts would be manufactured. In effect, I worried this was a somewhat grand project concerned as much with making money and honouring donors and partners, as it was about honouring war dead and serving Forces members.
Then I read in the Globe and Mail on Saturday, October 25th, an article by Alec Scott interviewing Michael Winter, a Newfoundland writer, who had been asked to write a non-fiction account of those Newfoundlanders who had served in the Great War. Winter described the Beaumont-Hamel memorial in France, and his description made me realize that a different kind of memorial was possible. Here is some of what Michael Winter had to say:
Winter mentions the impact that visiting the Beaumont-Hamel memorial had on him. “I was ambushed by what I felt.” He said. “No one was there; it was completely empty.” He had a picnic in the spot where 650 men died, 250 of those deaths within minutes. “I had this strange feeling of so many men experiencing what they didn't know would be the last night of their lives.” He said the park had been preserved as it was after the battle and he went on to describe the memorial, “It’s effective. The whole park is surrounded by 5000 trees native to Newfoundland. These trees by now are huge, some 100 feet tall – much taller than they’re able to grow on the Island. The soldiers died young, and yet the trees are ancient now. They felt like witnesses, a force from home that overlooks this battlefield.”
I wonder if there is still time to consider a memorial in our beautiful Cape Breton Highlands National Park or elsewhere that would not transform Green Cove into a concrete base for a huge statue and a grouping of buildings and parking lots, but like the Beaumont-Hamel memorial, might meld what Green Cove naturally offers into a “living” memorial that would honour the memory of the dead and serving members of the Canadian Military and Merchant Marine, as well as honouring the land that those same war dead and Canadian Forces members come from – Canada. Green Cove on its own, as you mention in your, is “the Cabot Trail’s iconic look-out”; it’s an awesome spectacle. If naturally enhanced in a careful way, keeping in mind those dead and living Canadian soldiers, it could prove one of Canada’s most lovely natural memorials to those who served and serve in Canada’s Military.
Finally, I want to say that the jobs and ongoing commerce the construction and maintenance of the Never Forgotten memorial would provide has been one of the local talking points. Making a living memorial would create jobs, and tending a living memorial would sustain those jobs. We in rural Cape Breton, those born here and those who immigrated in to make their lives, build businesses, pay taxes and raise their children, much like Mr. Trigiani’s family who immigrated to Ontario, all know the sorrow and hardship of rural unemployment and underemployment and of losing children to cities and areas where commerce is booming. In one small and suffering area of Cape Breton, a memorial would be a boon. My intention is not to destroy the hope of those jobs, but to suggest there might be another kind of memorial, one that could just as fully serve community economic needs and the glory of Green Cove’s natural beauty and most particularly, honour the men and women of our Military Forces.
North Shore, Cape Breton
Today in our local newspaper, the Chronicle Herald, an article told about a proposed and necessary moose cull in the CB Highlands National Park. It explained that after the moose cull, an area near the Skyline Trail will reforested. Matthew Smith, the park ecologist, said it is possible that a “moose enclosure” the size of nine football fields could be built to protect immature trees from being eaten down by remaining moose. He goes on to say, “Visitors to the park will have a chance to walk through the “enclosure” and plant trees while learning about the project and the importance of restoration.” It is this sort of project, shared by the park and the Never Forgotten National Memorial, a “living” and ongoing project dedicated to the memory of war dead and serving Forces members that could create a living memorial, an ongoing natural memorial to Canadian Forces. Something novel yet fitting for a National Park. I'm not suggesting the Never Forgotten members adopt this particular project, unless it was appropriate to do so, but I do want to allow you to see the kind of project I had in mind.
1) Michael Winter article, Globe and Mail:
2) Moose cull a reforest project article, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Chronicle Herald:
3) Never Forgotten National Memorial:
4) John Allemang article in Globe & Mail re: war memorials