New Brunswick

Foes of Officers' Square upgrade ask city not to rush loss of history, trees

After weeks of complaining about a lack of public consultation, opponents of the City of Fredericton's plan to modernize Officers' Square in the downtown got a chance to be heard.

After concerns are raised at public meeting, councillor says he's heard from many people who favour changes

More than 200 people attended the Officers' Square meeting held in downtown Fredericton on Tuesday evening. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

After weeks of complaining about a lack of public consultation, opponents of the City of Fredericton's plan to modernize Officers' Square in the downtown got a chance to be heard. 

More than 200 people came out to listen Tuesday night to more than a dozen speakers address the city's development committee about a project that would add a skating oval and permanent stage and make other upgrades to the square, at the cost of the trees there now.

The city had already cut down some trees before hosting the public consultation meeting on Tuesday night.

Those who chastised the city for what seemed a rush to upgrade the public space were often greeted with cheers, applause and standing ovations. 

"If the reason these trees have to go is for a skating oval, I would imagine by the time any replacement trees got anywhere close to maturity, that skating oval is going to be long gone," said Nadine Ives of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick. 

Nadine Ives of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick doubted any skating oval put in place would outlast the trees now growing in Officers' Square. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

"Cities around the world will grow around a tree," Ives said.

"A particular oak tree in Oakville has its own heritage designation. In Japan, a 700-year-old tree was protected when they built a train station around it.

"All over the world people are valuing their trees, and there's no reason we can't and we shouldn't value ours in the same way." 

The city has met fierce opposition from several groups since the announcement the century-old tree in the square has to go.

'The only way to identify these archeological remains is through detailed archeological excavation. Not by hauling our history away in the back of a dump truck."- Jason Jeandron,  Fredericton archeologist

Many have been displeased with the communication from the city.

Beth Biggs of the Save Officers' Square Community Group, requested a motion from the committee to immediately halt all construction at Officers' Square, and bring the matter before city council. 

Biggs said she has collected 7,891 signatures from people who support the move.

She raised the stack above her head to a cheering crowd. 

City clerk Jennifer Murray said the feedback will be taken into consideration as the project moves forward. 

In an interview with Information Morning Fredericton on Wednesday, Coun. Bruce Grandy, the chair of the development committee, couldn't say whether council could, or would, make any changes to plans for the upgrade based on the public consultation.

But he said there are two sides to the issue, and he's heard from a "large number" of people who support the project. 

Beth Biggs of the Save Officers' Square Community Group waved a stack of signatures she said bore 7,890 names opposed to the update of the historic square. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Heritage and history 

Saving the trees was not the only concern speakers during the consultation raised about plans for Officers' Square.

Several people concerned about preserving the history of the square also presented arguments against the city's plans.

Grand Chief Ron Tremblay, the traditional chief of the Wolastoq Grand Council, urged Mayor Mike O'Brien to respect the land in question and its connection to those who used it for thousands of years before. 

Grand Chief Ron Tremblay, the traditional chief of the Wolastoq Grand Council, said he is opposed to the removal of trees in Officers' Square. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

"Our greatest mother, the Earth, she gives us everything we need: food, clothing, shelter," said Tremblay. 

"She produces those magnificent dinosaurs of tree at Officers' Square that helps us breathe, that gives us the natural air-conditioning in the summer, which I love sitting down and watching concerts there. It's a beautiful place to do that." 

City officials said they would not address concerns brought forward directly Tuesday night, but the opinions shared would be taken into consideration when moving the project forward. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Historians also voiced their worry about proper excavation of the site during construction. Recognized as a site significant to the history of the Canadian army, and the formation of the Royal Canadian Regiment on Dec. 21, 1883, there is concern that artifacts remain underfoot in the space. 

"The only way to identify these archeological remains is through detailed archeological excavation," said Jason Jeandron, an archeologist in Fredericton.

"Not by hauling our history away in the back of a dump truck." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shane Fowler

Reporter

Shane Fowler has been a CBC journalist based in Fredericton since 2013.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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