She would rise 30 metres into the air from a rocky point on the east coast of Cape Breton Island. There would be a 300-car parking lot, a souvenir shop and a restaurant. Visitors would pass through the “We See Thee Rise Observation Deck” and “The Commemorative Ring of True Patriot Love.” And there, looking across the Atlantic Ocean toward Europe, would be the main attraction: “Mother Canada,” a giant statue of a robed women with outstretched arms, beckoning toward the 114,000 Canadian soldiers, sailors and air force personnel who never came home.
The Never Forgotten National Memorial is a well-intentioned idea. It’s just not clear whether it is well-conceived. The brainchild of a Toronto businessman, the memorial would be built at an existing rest stop along the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Leona Aglukkaq, the Minister responsible for Parks Canada, supports the project and is working with the non-profit foundation behind it. Justice Minister Peter MacKay has also spoken out in the project’s favour, calling it “a wonderful initiative that will give Canadians a steadfast symbol” of our soldiers’ sacrifices.
Legitimate concerns, however, are surfacing. The monstrous size of the statue, the design of which is based on the moving but much more modestly scaled “Canada Bereft” statue at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, is giving people pause, as are its location in a national park and its impact on the environment. The literal-mindedness of the naming – one area would be called the “With Glowing Hearts National Sanctuary” – raises more questions about the artistry involved. There is something beautiful about the objective, and something very kitschy about the proposed execution.
The location in Cape Breton has symbolic value: It faces Vimy Ridge and the European theatres of battle that took so many lives, and the landscape is among the most moving in Canada. The people behind this well-meaning project, as well as the federal government, should make sure the memorial’s scale and ambition are in keeping with the place and the intended message of remembrance. An empty parking lot and a curiously oversized statue are not fitting tributes to our fallen soldiers.