War memorial plans in national park cause controversy

Some people living around the Cabot Trail are questioning plans to construct a multi-million dollar monument in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park supports the construction of $25M monument

An artists conceptual drawing of what the proposed war memorial in Cape Breton Highlands National Park could look like. (http://www.nfnm.ca/)

Some people living around the Cabot Trail are questioning plans to construct a multi-million dollar monument in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

The Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation wants to build a $25-million memorial to Canada's war dead on a stretch of the trail between Ingonish and Neils Harbour.

The plan is to build the war memorial on a nearly one hectare piece of land in Green Cove.

"I think it's a great idea for a memorial. I thinks it's the wrong location for Green Cove," said Gordon Rideout, president of the Royal Canadian Legion branch in Ingonish.

Rideout describes Green Cove as one of the best look-off points in the area.

"You're in the middle of probably one of the most beautiful national parks in the country. What's going to happen here, if I read the articles correctly, is that the Cabot Trail of course will have to be rerouted," he said. 

"There's going to be an information centre there. There has to be of course washroom facilities and everything else put in there. And it's just going to spoil one of the most overlooked places on the trail. I don't think it should be put there."

An artist's rendering of the proposed memorial shows a multi-storey statue of a woman perched on the Green Cove cliff face, arms outstretched toward Europe with a concrete walkway circling her feet.

The entire memorial will take up just under one hectare of land in the national park.

"I just don't want to see a major reconstruction of that area. It's going to turn it into a small Disney World," said Rideout.

He thinks Black Brook, just down the road, would be a better site given that it already has a large parking lot and bathroom facilities.

Others, like Claudia Gahlinger who lives in South Harbour, say the project doesn't belong in the park at all. 

She said most people like the idea of honouring Canada's war dead and see the benefit to tourism.

But there's bewilderment as to how the memorial fits with the park's role as a steward of nature.

"We all know that we'll be fined if we're caught taking even a stick or a stone from the park, yet this private foundation is going to be allowed to pave over, rearrange and in effect own an entire hectare," said Gahlinger.

Parks Canada approves

Parks Canada has approved the plan to build the memorial.

Marie O'Hearn is manager of external relations with Parks Canada in Cape Breton.

"I think that there's a lot of ways that Parks Canada looks to connect to Canadians and this is certainly a unique way for Canadians to connect with our national parks," she said.

"It's part of the overall government of Canada decision to commemorate this country's World Wars and Parks Canada is committed to working on this project on behalf of the government of Canada."

The park will hold consultation sessions in communities near Green Cove.

O'Hearn said public input will help shape the plans for the war memorial.

Those community meetings will go ahead later in the spring.

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