The chairman of the Vimy Foundation wants the organizers behind the proposed war memorial on Cape Breton to stop referring to their massive project as Mother Canada, calling it “disrespectful and unsavoury.”
But that’s unlikely to happen. Christopher Sweeney said the lawyer representing the Never Forgotten National Memorial (NFNM), which is planned for a beautiful cove on the island’s east coast, told his charitable foundation to “basically stuff it.”
He said the lawyer informed him in a letter that his group has a trademark on the name Mother Canada, which is a common term for the mournful, draped statue of the mother at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, which was unveiled in 1936.
“They took out a trademark so they have a legal right to do it,” Mr. Sweeney said. “I just find it improper that they would even think of taking it. It’s like someone grabbing the title Eiffel Tower, if no one had trademarked it, and building it in Vegas.”
He said it’s clear the group is trying to “leverage Canada’s affection to the Vimy Memorial to build their own project in Canada.”
The Cape Breton proposal has been controversial since it was first announced. It is to be built in picturesque Green Cove, which is located in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
It has sparked a battle among Cape Bretoners – some of whom believe it will create much-needed jobs, and others who are opposed to national park land being handed over to Toronto businessman Tony Trigiani’s vision of a giant war monument, with a parking lot for 60 vehicles.
Mr. Trigiani, who owns a food-packaging company, spoke enthusiastically to The Globe and Mail about his ambitious project in the spring of 2014. He said the entire project would cost between $25-million and $60-million and hoped the monument would be unveiled on July 1, 2017 – Canada’s 150th birthday.
The statue, modelled on Canada Bereft, the figure in the Vimy Memorial, was just one part of Mr. Trigiani‘s big plan for the site, which also included a souvenir shop.
Mr. Trigiani has attracted some high-profile supporters, including federal politicians and retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie.
This week, Mr. Trigiani referred inquiries to NFNM spokeswoman Meg Stokes. The organization’s lawyer would also not comment.
Ms. Stokes wrote in an e-mail that the family of Walter Seymour Allward, the sculptor and architect of the Vimy Memorial, has given its “blessing” for the memorial. In response to the concerns of the Vimy Foundation, she said, “We are deeply supportive and respectful of any organization that works to support, honour and remember those who have served Canada.”
She did not respond to questions about whether her group has trademarked the name Mother Canada.
Asked how much money has been raised so far, she wrote that her group has received “several generous donations from private individuals” and commitments from others. In November, 2014, she wrote in an e-mail that her group had raised $79,000 “in tax receipted gifts” since the foundation was incorporated in 2012.
At that time, she also said the group had applied for trademarks on clothing, accessories, printed materials and “more.”
Mr. Sweeney has been the volunteer chairman of the Vimy Foundation for the past two years. It is a charity that raises awareness of Canada’s First World War effort and sends hundreds of students each year to the memorial in France. Currently, it is building a $10-million education centre at the site, set to open in April, 2017, the 100the anniversary of the battle. The federal government committed $5-million, and his charity has already matched that.
He said his foundation was uncomfortable with the Mother Canada references but acted when the language shifted. At first, he said, Mr. Trigiani referred to his statue as being “like Mother Canada.” But now Mr. Sweeney sees references to it being Mother Canada.
“If it’s Mother Canada, what is the statue over at Vimy?” he said.
He has written twice to Mr. Trigiani – and the lawyer responded to the second letter, which was written at the end of May.
Mr. Sweeney, who was recently at the Vimy site, calls the Mother Canada moniker an “affectionate nickname” for the statue.
“The statue of Canada Bereft at Vimy is spectacular,” he said. “It’s mournful, it’s in scale … and it’s so passionate and understated.”
The other statue, he said, is “humongous” and “not sorrowful.”
“It’s a very different message it’s sending.”
This story corrects an earlier version that incorrectly stated the proposed war memorial would have 300 parking spacesReport Typo/Error