Mother Canada donations accepted long after Parks Canada's rejection

The Never Forgotten Memorial Foundation says it does not accept a decision by Parks Canada to dissolve their partnership to build a massive Mother Canada statue in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It accepted $200,000 in donations for the project in 2016.

The Never Forgotten Memorial Foundation says it needs the money to pay for previous site work at Green Cove

The Never Forgotten Memorial Foundation says it is still paying for work required by Parks Canada when it initially agreed to let the group build in Green Cove. (Never Forgotten Memorial Foundation)

Though not as generous as they once were, donations are still rolling in for the Mother Canada statue more than a year after Ottawa pulled its support for the $25-million project in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

The eight-storey statue of a grieving mother with her arms outstretched toward Europe is the brainchild of Tony Trigiani, a Toronto businessman who continues to fight for the controversial, privately funded project at Green Cove.

His organization, the Never Forgotten Memorial Foundation, received $208,000 in tax-receipted charitable donations last year, according to information filed with the Canada Revenue Agency. That's down from $485,000 in 2015 and $865,000 in 2014. 

When asked why the foundation continues to accept donations for the monument, Trigiani told CBC in an email that "funds received in 2016 have been used to pay for considerable expenses for the site of Green Cove."

Still paying for expenses from 2015

He said most of the expenses were incurred in 2015, a year before Parks Canada withdrew its support for the project. They include a detailed environmental impact assessment, said Trigiani. 

In addition to the tax-receipted donations in 2016, Trigiani's foundation received about $30,000 from other charities and $118,000 in gifts. 

Its expenditures in 2016 were $125,000 of which $50,000 was for professional and consulting fees.

Green Cove, Cape Breton was the proposed location for a 24-metre-high Mother Canada statue. (Joan Weeks/CBC)

Foundation still focused on Green Cove

Parks Canada initially entered into a memorandum of understanding with the foundation, which was expected to pay for the statue's construction and maintenance, but announced in February 2016 it no longer supported the project.

It cited a number of outstanding issues including a final design and an agreement on the structuring of the funding for construction and maintenance.

A news release issued at the time by the agency stated in no uncertain terms "the project will not be moving forward on Parks Canada land."

But Trigiani told CBC "at no time has the [Never Forgotten Memorial Foundation] given up on the Green Cove site or even more importantly, has it, or will it, ever consider alternative sites."

'Considerable' time, money already spent

On its website, the foundation posted a disclaimer saying Parks Canada is no longer a partner in the project but it does not mention the agency has refused permission to build on its land. 

It says the foundation is a registered charity that continues to accept donations, though it is "not actively engaged in fundraising."

Trigiani said the foundation fulfilled its obligations "as stated in the [memorandum of understanding] with Parks Canada at considerable time and cost."

If a new site were chosen, "all work done and money spent to date would go out [with] the wind," he said.