When landscape architect Arnis Budrevics was asked to design the Dieppe Veterans’ Memorial Park, something didn’t feel right, he said.
The City had selected a plot of land on the east side of the beach strip and had drawn up a sample memorial that would have visitors facing the water. "This felt backwards," Budrevics said. The Hamilton soldiers it was to commemorate had approached the Dieppe port from the sea. Visitors to the park should do the same, he thought.
Budrevics and Lawrence Stasiuk, the City’s landscape architect who hired him for the $420,000 project, agreed that the memorial should be designed to honour the veterans’ experience in Dieppe in every way possible.
So Budrevics met with seven Dieppe veterans to consult with them on the design of the Dieppe Veterans’ Memorial Park in the early 2000s.
"When I told them [about his idea to replicate the layout of the Dieppe beach], they said, ’that’s brilliant!’ It was the light, it was the spark, it was the moment of understanding," Budrevics said.
The group met numerous times before the park was opened in August 2003.
"The boys and I would meet in the legion and they would just wander off in their memories of their stories," Budrevics said. "I really enjoyed working with the boys and really understanding the history of that moment."
Recreating Dieppe beach in Hamilton
The shapes, textures and layers of Dieppe’s beach were all woven into the design.
The beach rocks that surround the entrance to the memorial represent the conditions of the beach at Dieppe. To the soldiers’ surprise, the port wasn’t covered in sand, but in "pebbles the size of your fist," Budrevics said. These rocks got caught up in the tanks’ treads, he said. "That’s why our boys didn’t get up onto the beach."
Over the years since the park opened, stories have emerged that some of the stones on Hamilton’s site are from Dieppe, France.
"Families of veterans have taken one or two beach stones, put them in their luggage and exchanged them with rocks on Dieppe," Budrevics said.
The pillared wall that separates the plaza from the stones is meant to replicate what was known as "the casino" – the most prominent building on the waterfront, which the soldiers were intended to attack and seek shelter in.
The ceremonial plaza, where visitors gather and the annual memorial service takes place, represents the town square of Dieppe.
The Queen Elizabeth highway, which can be seen from the memorial, resembles the highlands behind the beach of Dieppe. "We lucked into that because of the location," Budrevics said.
And the memorial cairn at the top of the park "is an exact replica of the one the Canadians have built in France," he said.
Alexander Budrevics & Associates, is the longest-running landscape architecture firm in the country, Budrevics said. In his 48 years of business, he regularly designs parks, schoolyards, stadiums and the like. But this project was unique because it wasn’t made for an anonymous public, he said. It was for Hamilton’s veterans and their families, and it would have to acknowledge the devastation the city faced about 60 years earlier.
An emotional response
When it was done and publicly opened for the first time on Aug.19, 2003, Budrevics said the veterans – "the boys," as he calls them – were "visibly shaken."
Until then, the memorial services had been held at the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry Veteran’s Association building. For years, if not decades, the veterans had been asking the City for a more commemorative space to publicly acknowledge the day than within the legion’s dark walls, Budrevics said.
"They gulped and approached the cairn," he said. They were bought to tears.
"When the guys come around, either walking or in a wheelchair, it’s like ‘whoa,’ it just brings you back to your childhood – and they were kids," Budrevics said.See an animated map of the Dieppe Raid