Does Cape Breton Island’s National Park need a towering 10-storey-high war memorial statue nicknamed Mother Canada the size and style of the famous Christ the Redeemer figure of Rio de Janiero? Toronto businessman Tony Trigiani thinks so, and he’s convinced Canada’s Conservative government to back his plan to build it by July 1, 2017 in time for Canada’s 150th anniversary. Problem is, few outside the Tory cabinet and the military seem to share their enthusiasm.
Trigiani, the President of Norstar Corp., a food packaging company, is also the President and CEO of the Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation specifically established to raise between $25 and $60 million to build the statue in Green Cove on the widely acclaimed Cabot Trail. As the story goes, Mr. Trigiani was so moved by war memorials to Canada’s fallen soldiers that he had a vision of a woman reaching her arms to Europe – specifically France, the location of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.
Opposition to the plan is building as people in Nova Scotia and beyond learn the details. While some believe that Canada does not need yet another memorial to those killed in war, given sites like Vimy and the National War Memorial in Ottawa, others find it hypocritical that Stephen Harper’s government, known for warring with its own veterans, is backing a memorial to those who died in battle.
And then there’s the recognition of corporate and individual sponsors. According to the Never Forgotten Foundation website, in the Interpretation Centre planned for the site, “Founders Hall will recognize members of the Founders Club and other generous individuals and organizations who contribute to the creation of the Never Forgotten National Memorial. Naming rights located throughout the Founders Hall and other special areas of the Interpretive Centre will also recognize the contributions of project partners and other major donors.” Even some of those in favour of the project find it objectionable that corporate and others sponsors will receive as much visibility and recognition as the dead thus memorialized.
But most of the opposition seems to fall into two broad categories, concerns about a flawed process and about aesthetics or the destruction of natural beauty by the construction of a manmade monstrosity. In an online discussion about the project, Nova Scotians made comments like these:
“Profoundly moving in all the worst possible ways.”
“The wrong memorial in the wrong place. I don’t object necessarily to a memorial for those that have sacrificed their lives for Canada, but leave the beauty of the Cabot Trail alone.”
“Surely no reasonable person could perceive a pristine coastal area in a national park to be an appropriate setting for an American-style colossus such as this!”
“What a blight on the landscape it would be.”
Most who speak against the project are vehemently opposed to the location. Green Cove is a pristine outcrop of pink granite in Highlands Park along the Cabot Trail. The island, the trail and the site have all been recognized internationally as places of significant natural beauty, National Geographic Traveler placing Cape Breton Island second on a scorecard of over 100 of the world’s greatest destinations for sustainable tourism. One would assume that such a designation will be very difficult to earn in future if the monument is built.
CPAWS (the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society) says in a policy statement released in December, 2014 that it is “deeply concerned” about the project. The statement went on to explain “The proposed Mother Canada statue is very large and is not appropriate for the park. It is imposing on the landscape and conflicts with the beautiful natural aesthetic of the Green Cove site. Proposed associated facilities also expand the footprint on the site, including parking lots and an interpretive facility.”
As for the process, the whole project seems to have come about in secret with an official announcement in the summer of 2013 by the Canadian government. By the fall of that year, Parks Canada CEO Alan Latourelle wrote to Trigiani supporting the project and saying in his letter that the memorial will be “an exceptionally striking and appropriate addition to Cape Breton Highlands National Park,” this before any public consultation on the project or any assessment of its impact on the Park or the site.
The CPAWS statement says of the process, “Wide-scale consultation is normal in Parks Canada’s park management processes, and is required for park management plans. Remarkably, in this instance there does not appear to have been any public consultation prior to the announcement by Parks Canada that the Mother Canada statue is moving ahead.” The statement goes on to conclude that this whole debacle is unnecessary. “In Nova Scotia, there are no shortages of coastal sites facing eastward that might be more appropriate than Green Cove.“
While it doesn’t appear that the Harper government or Tony Trigiani are prepared to compromise on the project or its location and Parks Canada has already given the green light for this project, they have opened a small window to solicit public opinion. Fill out the survey here. In addition, a group of concerned Canadians called Friends of Green Cove has launched a website to voice opposition to the location of Green Cove as the home for Mother Canada. For more information, visit: Friends of Green Cove
Photo is from Never Forgotten National Memorial