Major-general (retired) Lewis MacKenzie was the first commander of UN peacekeeping forces in Sarajevo and is an ambassador for the Never Forgotten National Memorial project.
The vast majority of Canada's fallen as a result of war and conflict are interred in foreign lands. More than 114,000 were buried in some 2,500 Commonwealth cemeteries abroad, lost or buried at sea, and more than 12,000 are missing, consumed by the quagmires of France, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, South Africa, Asia and elsewhere. The proposed Never Forgotten National Memorial project would recognize those fallen and welcome them home.
Somewhat to the surprise and disappointment of those involved with this privately funded project, our efforts have generated criticism; with that in mind, we would like to explain our goals.
Standing on a half-acre of land at Green Cove in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the centrepiece of the memorial would be Mother Canada, a nearly 25-metre-tall statue with arms stretched out across the Atlantic toward the park in France where the Canadian National Vimy Memorial has stood for nearly 80 years.
The memorial would serve not only as a solemn place to honour those thousands of people who served their country but could never return, but also as an integrated extension of the rugged landscape that men and women in uniform, past and present, have worked to protect.
It's a fitting location. Atlantic Canada, and Nova Scotia specifically, has long been deeply connected to the Canadian Armed Forces. About 10 per cent of the members of Canada's military call Nova Scotia home, and more than 40 per cent of the military's marine defence and security assets fall within its borders. Far too many of her soldiers, though, like their military brethren from coast to coast, lay in graves far from home.
That's why we are working closely with Parks Canada, a growing circle of supporters and Cape Bretoners on this project – to show our respect for those who went abroad to serve Canada and who did not come back. We are giving great attention to ensure that the project will not only honour the fallen, be accessible to the public and support the local economy – but would also continue to respect all environmental rules, regulations and laws.
We have been listening carefully to the public's views and have built that feedback into the memorial's plans. We were gratified by the enthusiastic endorsements from the overwhelming majority of those who took part in local public meetings. We are also listening to those who have questions to ensure that practical concerns are addressed.
While this project is unprecedented in many ways, placing a memorial in a national park is not. Smaller-scale memorials can be found in Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island, Ontario's Point Pelee National Park and PEI National Park. Larger-scale developments exist within national parks, such as the ski resorts in Banff and Lake Louise, Alta. In our view, the protection of our environment and the preservation of our heritage go hand-in-hand.
In recent years, we have seen the work Canadians have done in Afghanistan, Haiti and elsewhere. The public grieved when our fallen came home along the Highway of Heroes, and showed a surge of support and affection for all who served. As we approach our country's 150th birthday in 2017, that wave will connect with another historic milestone: the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
We call on all Canadians to work with us to recognize this important occasion, and to support this lasting monument to those who never again saw the land they left to protect.
Eds note: An earlier version incorrectly stated the height of the proposed statue.