Group attempts to revive the Mother Canada memorial in Cape Breton

Parks Canada cancelled the project eight years ago, citing issues with funding and the lack of a final design. Critics reject those claims

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Tony Trigiani’s plan was to construct a 24-metre-tall statue of a woman in Nova Scotia, her arms outstretched towards the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France. It was intended to memorialize the thousands of Canadians and Indigenous service members who died in foreign countries, the majority of whom were never returned to Canada. Initially approved by the Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the plan fell through when in February of 2016, Parks Canada terminated the memorandum of understanding (MOU). Eight years later, Trigiani and his foundation, the Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation (also known as the foundation), have launched a lawsuit against Parks Canada, arguing the MOU was terminated in bad faith.

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The memorial was officially to be named the Never Forgotten National Memorial, but was more commonly known as the Mother Canada memorial. The name Mother Canada originates from the memorial in Vimy, France, which honours the Canadians that fell at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. A statue there called Canada Bereft is of a woman, similar to the one Trigiani planned to build, looking down melancholically. That statue became popularly known as Mother Canada.

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Trigiani’s statue was to be privately funded except for $100,000 of public money provided to the Foundation for research and to update its website. It was to be built at Green Cove in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, N.S., in two stages, each estimated to cost $30 million. The first was the construction of the statue, to be finished on July 1, 2017. The second phase included building a museum, an information centre, commemorative grounds, a pathway and other supporting features.

Trigiani and the foundation were unable to provide a comment due to the lawsuit.

The project was initially approved by the Harper government with Harper, through Parks Canada, granting the foundation the $100,000. However, according to a CBC article from 2015, following Harper’s landslide defeat to the Liberals, the new government requested Parks Canada conduct a review to ensure that enough private money was available for construction.

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One of the major criticisms of the project was that Trigiani had patented the name Mother Canada and developed merchandise like underwear. According to a Toronto Star profile from 2016, Trigiani said he filed the patent to make sure no one else could use the name, not to “get rich selling Mother Canada underwear.”

Canada Bereft statue in Vimy, France
The mourning figure of “Mother Canada” on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, looking out over the Douai plain at the Vimy Memorial in 2016 in France. Photo by Hugo Rodrigues / Cornwall Standard /Postmedia Network

Some of the other criticisms included the design of the statue. An editorial headline from The Globe and Mail in 2015 called the monument, “hubristic, ugly and just plain wrong.” The article went on to say that “A brutal megalith doesn’t prompt individual introspection – it mocks it. And by defiling a quiet beauty spot with its grandiose bulk, Mother Canada will only diminish the heritage it claims to honour.”

However, according to Ray Stapleton, a long-time supporter of the project and resident of Cape Breton, many monuments were criticized before being built.

“Some of the world’s most iconic constructs have also been ridiculed by the artistic and architectural elites of the time, before their inception,” Stapleton said in an email, listing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.; the Eiffel Tower; and the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona.

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Stapleton is part of an organization called Friends of Our Fallen, who advocate for the building of the monument. Part of their mission statement reads:

“The Memorial is not to be a political statement or meant to glorify war; its purpose is to honour the service and memory of the war’s dead. The price of human life in war should always be clearly remembered. Although it has been roughly treated over the years, Green Cove is still a place of beauty and serenity, a place where we can contemplate and reflect, a place where we can remember and commemorate. This site will be ideal for the Never Forgotten National Memorial (NFNM) as it will not compromise any of the wilderness or other ecologically protected areas of the Park. It will also help the Park to live up to the cultural part of its mandate.”

Green Cove
This picture shows the proposed location for the memorial, Green Cove, N.S. In February 2016, the project was cancelled by Parks Canada. CREDIT: NEVER FORGOTTEN NATIONAL MEMORIAL FOUNDATION / STEPHANIE VERGARA-GRANT Photo by Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation/Stephanie Vergara-Grant /Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation

An MOU is not a legally binding contract, but both parties are obligated to act in good faith. The foundation argues that Parks Canada, through its actions throughout their partnership with the foundation, acted in bad faith.

National Post spoke with Joel Vale who, along with David Fogel, are the lawyers that filed the lawsuit on behalf of the foundation.

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The foundation’s statement of claim, released last month, alleges Parks Canada “unilaterally changed the requirements necessary for The Foundation to commence Phase One, including changing the environmental assessment from a Basic Assessment to a Detailed Impact Assessment (‘DIA’) and then changing the terms of reference of the DIA.”

It adds: “Parks Canada’s unilateral changes… delayed The Foundation’s fundraising campaign. Parks Canada also added the Mi’kmaq Ecological Knowledge Study (‘MEKS Study’). The MEKS Study determined that the impact of The National War Memorial on the Mi’kmaw Traditional Use Activities would be minimal as long as access to the coastline remains for shoreline fishing.”

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The claim alleges that for a year and a half, Parks Canada led on the foundation with the idea that they would proceed with the project after the DIA and MEKS Study were completed, knowing that these additional requirements would cost the foundation time and money to complete, and that it would impede the foundation’s ability to raise money and make completion of phase one on July 1, 2017, impossible.

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The claim estimates that the cost to the foundation was $3 million and seeks that Parks Canada reinstate their partnership to allow the foundation to continue planning, fundraising and constructing the monument. If that is not possible, the claim demands $6 million in compensation and punitive damages.

Another issue for the foundation is the Limitations Act, set at two years. However, it argues that because the completion of the project involves the interests of Indigenous groups and peoples who fought and died in overseas conflicts, The Limitations Act does not apply.

In an email statement to National Post, a Parks Canada spokesperson said: “In 2016, Parks Canada withdrew its participation in the Mother Canada project, which involved permission to use land at Cape Breton Highlands National Park as the site to build the monument. A 2016 review conducted by Parks Canada concluded too many key elements remained outstanding, including the availability of funds to the Foundation, agreement on the structuring of the funding for construction and maintenance, and a definitive final design plan.

“Parks Canada is unable to comment further as this matter is before the courts.”

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