by Geoff Olson

Wildfires. A plebiscite flameout. Meanwhile, on the opposite coast of Canada, heated words about a war memorial planned for Green Cove in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

In 2013, Parks Canada donated $100,000 to the private company backing the project. The centrepiece will be “Mother Canada”, a shroud-covered, 25-metre woman facing the Atlantic with her arms outstretched, beckoning soldiers lost at sea or killed in overseas conflicts. She is modelled after the much smaller, subtler figure at the Vimy Ridge memorial in France known as “Canada Bereft.”

The English lyrics to “O Canada” have supplied names to other parts of the complex: the “Commemorative Ring of True Patriot Love”, the “True North  Commemorative Square” and the “With Glowing Hearts National Sanctuary.” The memorial plan also includes a parking lot for 60 vehicles, a restaurant, souvenir shop, and an interpretive centre.

All that’s needed to complete this cringe-worthy kitsch is “The Stephen Harper Standing on Guard for Theocracy Museum of Creationism” with a diorama of apostles wrangling velociraptors by a tar pit.

Classing up the Cape Breton coast with a giant concrete dame is apparently the Trump-like brainchild of Tony Trigiani, CEO of the Toronto-based food packaging company Norstar. He and fellow privateers are seeking a total of $75 million in donations through The Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation. (A lawyer for the organization recently trademarked the term ”Mother Canada,” presumably so no one else can make a buck sticking the phrase on a t-shirt.)

Cape Bretoners are divided on the ecological and economic impact of the project. There’s been little enthusiasm from the Canadian press, including the usually hawkish Globe and Mail, which recently editorialized that  “the bigger-is-better approach to art is best left to Stalinist tyrants, theme-park entrepreneurs and insecure municipalities hoping to waylay bored drive-by tourists.”

And needless to say, we already have combat-related monuments, cenotaphs, and plaques galore across the country, along with an annual holiday that commemorates Canadian soldiers who gave their lives in past wars.

Supporters include CBC silverback Peter Mansbridge, and retired Canadian Army General Lew Mackenzie, who dismisses the controversy over Parks Canada funding of the project as “irritating.”

“People should know that the fact is that was for the website,” Lewis says of the $100,000 Parks Canada funding.  “It has nothing to do with concrete or drills or anything else.” Okay then, so why is a federal department – one tasked with preserving ecologically sensitive areas – directing public funds to a website trumpeting a private infrastructure project in a national park? Are we believe that bureaucrats within Parks Canada chose to enter into a P3 to construct a controversial colossus on the Cape Breton coast without input from the PMO?

If you said yes to the last question, I have a bridge decorated with yoga mats to sell you.
“I really wonder if this is more about setting a precedent for future “non-ecological” private projects in national parks across the country,” writes an anonymous contributor to the CBC online comments section. “This precedent uses the ability of politically-appointed ministers to make politically motivated decisions that contravene accepted and recognized national parks policy in order to further the private goals of small groups of individuals.”

My crystal ball is cracked at the best of times, but a projected $75 million cost for the memorial could represent a small investment for insiders seeking to desensitize Canadians to private penetration of Canada’s national parks, up to and including resource extraction.

Perhaps “Mother Canada” is a corporate Trojan Horse, perhaps not. Either way, she’s a concrete-and-rebar combat fetish better suited to a reactionary regime ruled by an out-of-touch despot rather than…um…what I mean is, she’s not right for Canada. Take a look yourself: in renderings on the Never to Be Forgotten Memorial website, Mom Canuck looks like the spawn of a plastic rosary figure and Tony Stark’s frigate-sized 3D printer.

Given the persistent claims from Canadian vets about denied and delayed benefits from Veterans Affairs, the feds involvement in this militaristic megaproject seems bitterly ironic. In that respect, one thing rings true in the design of The Never to Be Forgotten National Memorial: the colossus stands with her back to the nation.

The Vancouver Courier, July 10


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