Nova Scotia

Halifax council won't add Afghan war dates to front of cenotaph

Municipal staff concluded in March 2018 that adding more dates to the front would crowd the statue and take away from its historic value. At the time, city council agreed with the staff assessment. An effort to change that decision failed Tuesday.

Veteran who lobbied for change 'gutted' by council's decision

The existing Halifax cenotaph is shown on the left. An artist's rendering of how the cenotaph would be like if Afghanistan dates were added to the front is shown on the right. (Halifax Regional Municipality)

Halifax regional council has decided not to make changes to the cenotaph in Grand Parade, despite the lobbying of some veterans who want the dates of the Afghanistan war added to the side facing city hall.

The dates of the conflict are engraved in stone on the side of the monument that faces away from city hall, but the veterans argue this does not give proper prominence to the service of Canadians in Afghanistan.

Seven Halifax municipal councillors were not swayed by that argument at a council meeting Tuesday. 

"I would respectfully suggest if the precedent's been set, that there's many, many other dates that would also need to be added on the front of the monument," said Coun. Bill Karsten.

Karsten said Canadians have also served in Bosnia, the Boer War and many other conflicts that are not on the front of the cenotaph.

City staff concluded in March 2018 that adding more dates to the front would crowd the statue and take away from its historic value. At the time, regional council agreed with the staff assessment.

Retired warrant officer Bob Thompson has been pushing to get Afghanistan dates added to the front of the Halifax cenotaph. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

In April, Coun. David Hendsbee brought forward a motion to rescind council's 2018 decision and add the dates to the front of the cenotaph. Council required a two-thirds majority vote in order to rescind the decision.

Eight councillors voted in favour of Hendsbee's motion Tuesday and seven against, which meant the two-thirds was not met and the cenotaph will remain as is.

Retired chief warrant officer Robert Thompson served in Afghanistan and has been lobbying municipal council to change its mind.

"I feel a little gutted actually," he said immediately after the council vote. "Hearing how council spoke favourably at the start when the deliberations were going on, then we kind of had the carpet pulled out from under our feet."

Thompson said he does not want to give up and he hopes a change in council might change the cenotaph.

"Municipal elections come up in 2020. Each one of those guys is going to be knocking at your door, looking for your vote," he said.  

The monument was originally put up in 1929 as a tribute to soldiers who died in the First World War. Dates were added for other conflicts after they happened.

Veterans showed up to Halifax regional council to show their support for changing the cenotaph. (Shaina Luck)

In 2015, the Afghanistan dates were added to the side of the cenotaph facing St. Paul's Anglican Church. The dates for the First World War, Second World War and Korean War are on the side facing city hall.

Daniel Ash, Thompson's brother-in-law, served several tours in Afghanistan and helped run a community radio station staffed by Dari and Pashto speakers to send positive messages to youth and education for women and girls. He said he's proud of his service and disappointed by council's decision.

"Those people that profess to be, Oh, I'm from a military family, or I was in a unit or whatever, you know what? Unless they walk the walk, they can't speak. They don't know how we feel," he said.

Daniel Ash served several tours in Afghanistan, running a community radio station that helped educate women and girls and gathered local intelligence. (CBC)

Coun. Waye Mason noted that in 2015, when the Afghanistan dates were added to the cenotaph, the veteran community applauded the move and seemed happy with the change.

Adding the Afghan dates would have cost $12,000, but city staff have said there are funds available to cover that cost.