Update (Feb 5, 2016) – Parks Canada Pulls Support for Mother Canada Monument
Canadian History in the News: The past is always a part of the present. This blog series looks at current events and stories that have a Canadian history element to them and I offer my opinion on the subject.
Artist’s rendition of the proposed Mother Canada statue. Click for a larger image. [Source]
Have you heard about the recent Mother Canada controversy yet?
Long story made short: The Conservative government wants to spend 25 million dollars to construct an 8-storey statue of a sad, veiled woman with her arms stretched out towards Europe on the eastern edge of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Some people are for it, others are completely against it. A quick Google search will reveal tons of news reports and editorials exploring the proposal from every perspective. With all the different opinions surrounding the issue, I decided to make things easy and break it all down for you here.
At the risk of hanging up my amateur historian badge, when I first saw the story pop up on my news feed, my first reaction was “Who the hell is Mother Canada?” Turns out that Mother Canada is one of the names of the grief-stricken female statue who is part of the Vimy Ridge Memorial in France. (She’s also known as Canada Bereft; the personification of a young nation mourning their dead).
The idea for Mother Canada 2.0 was sparked by Tony Trigiani, a Toronto businessman, who was struck by the number of young men who died during a visit to a European war cemetery. The idea soon garnered the support of the federal government/Parks Canada, as well as numerous Canadian broadcasters and politicians. It is now officially known as the Never Forgotten National Memorial.
H.M. King Edward VIII unveiling the figure of Canada on the Vimy Ridge Memorial. (1936) [Source]
Arguments in Favor of the Memorial
- Honours War Dead – The Memorial will be “a place for remembrance and gratitude. It will bring forth 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.” – Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation (NFNMF)
- Economic/Tourism Boost – The official plan calls for a 300-vehicle parking lot, a restaurant, an interpretive centre, and a gift shop to be built. As such, this project could bring a ton of people, jobs, and ultimately money to the area—especially if it becomes a popular tourist destination. In addition to the aforementioned plan, hotels, restaurants, nearby sites, and gas stations in the area will likely benefit. The statue has the potential to be a significant boost to Cape Breton’s economy.
- Makes Our History More Accessible – Cape Breton is a lot closer than the battlefields and monuments in Europe. Why travel all the way out there when this is much more nearby? Undoubtedly this spot would become a field trip location for Nova Scotian school children as well, thereby extending the legacy of past wars to younger generations. The statue will add to our collective memory and bring the sacrifices of those who died that much closer to home.
- Parks Canada Boost – This point ties into the earlier economic boost point. The federal government made substantial cuts to the agency in 2012 and the Atlantic region was one of the hardest hit. This memorial is a way to bring back lost Parks jobs and funding to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
- Pro-Veteran – Supporters claim that criticism is based in anti-veteran sentiment due to Canada’s long anti-war legacy. Attacks on the project are shameful because they take away from the sacrifices our veterans have made and continue to make.
Another artistic rendition of the Mother Canada proposal. [Source]
Arguments Against the Memorial
- It Goes Against Park Canada’s Mandate – Private corporations are not supposed to build on national park land. By allowing and financially supporting it, (Parks Canada already dropped $100,000 for the Memorial), it opens the door to further privatization of our public lands and resources. Moreover, developments in national parks must be for the purpose of “enhancing [the] ecological integrity of the Park and not for the sake of development [in itself].”
- Environmental Impact – The Memorial violates the site’s Wilderness Zone designation. The construction of the memorial, the 300-car parking lot, and the droves of tourists who would come would inevitably have a negative ecological impact on the area. Critics state that Parks Canada is more interested in “exploiting a beautiful seaside site than protecting its natural integrity.”
- Copycat Syndrome – Why build another statue when one already exists? The Vimy Foundation contacted the NFNMF to ask them to change the statue’s name but it was too late. They had already trademarked the term “Mother Canada” for merchandising purposes. With the 100th anniversary of the landmark battle on the horizon, the Vimy Foundation says it attends to run national ads to remind Canadians that “there is one Mother Canada and she is in France.” *Snaps fingers*
- Shady Planning/False Price Point – There have been no significant public consultations or proper environmental assessments. Also, critics claim that the ultimate bill will total $60 million, not the original $25 million, and that taxpayers will probably be on the hook for it despite it supposedly being a private project. For example, Parks Canada is funded by taxpayers and they have already contributed $100K. The project has had trouble gaining private donations according to the Canada Revenue Agency.
- Negative Impact on Mi’kmaq Culture – There have been no consultations with indigenous communities either. Green Cove, the area where the memorial will be built, is culturally important to the Mi’kmaq people. A recent 12-page report details how the area ties into the story of Kluskap, the ancient Mi’kmaq god, and the 54 different plant species used for various traditional purposes that will be negatively impacted by the project.
- Questions About Intention and Necessity – Some feel the statue would not provoke quiet introspection, rather “by defiling a quiet beauty spot with its grandiose bulk, Mother Canada will only diminish the heritage it claims to honour.” Others point out we already have the National War Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Peace Tower, and countless local war memorials across the country. Why do we need another? Some critics go as far as to suggest this is simply Harper trying to add to his “Warrior Nation” re-imagination of Canada’s past. (In Harper’s defense, he hasn’t issued any statements regarding the memorial yet).
The Chronicle Herald. July 8, 2015. [Source]
The above cartoon pretty much sums up my initial reaction to the proposed memorial. Those millions of dollars could be better spent elsewhere. Veterans Affairs had their budget cut by $226 million. Nine Veterans Affairs offices closed in 2014. As such, veterans’ access to benefits and resources has been substantially hindered. The government plans to give veterans $200 million…over the course of 50 years. You want to honour our war dead? How about you honour the ones who are still alive.
So what do you think? Is the controversy surrounding Mother Canada overblown? Would you like to see the statue built and would you travel to Cape Breton to go see it? Or do you think it is a bad idea? Let me know!
Auld, Alison. “‘Why they’re making such a fuss over this I don’t know’: Mother Canada debate met with shrug by many locals,” The National Post. June 27, 2015. Accessed from: http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/locals-mostly-supportive-of-mother-canada-statue-as-controversy-swirls-around-planned-cape-breton-war-memorial
Campbell, David, Roberts, Jonathan, Slumkoski, Corey, and Walls, Martha, “Heritage vs. History in the Commemoration of War in Cape Breton Highlands National Park,” Active History. July 2015. Accessed from: http://activehistory.ca/2015/07/heritage-vs-history-in-the-commemoration-of-war-in-cape-breton-highlands-national-park/
CBC News. “Mother Canada project would ‘enhance’ national park: supporters,” June 22, 2015. Accessed from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/mother-canada-project-would-enhance-national-park-supporters-1.3122424
Globe Editorial, “Mother Canada statue is hubristic, ugly and just plain wrong,” The Globe and Mail. Jun. 23, 2015. Accessed from: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/editorials/mother-canada-statue-is-hubristic-ugly-and-just-plain-wrong/article25083043/
Rankin, Andrew. “Statue would chip away at Mi’kmaq culture, expert says,” The Chronicle Herald. July 8, 2015. Accessed from: http://thechronicleherald.ca/novascotia/1297889-statue-would-chip-away-at-mi%E2%80%99kmaq-culture-expert-says