Nova Scotia

Mother Canada statue wrong way to remember, say history professors

Despite 180 people turning out for an event at Green Cove in Cape Breton yesterday to throw their support behind the Never Forgotten Memorial project in Cape Breton, a group of history professors is calling the statue "blindly patriotic."

Opposition from history professors comes on the heels of supportive rally at Green Cove

The Mother Canada statue, proposed for Cape Breton. (Never Forgotten Memorial Foundation)

A group of history professors is adding their voices to the opposition of the Never Forgotten War Memorial Foundation, calling the proposed eight-storey statue "blind patriotism."

The organization is planning to build the 24-metre tall statue — called Mother Canada — in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park at Green Cove. It's a memorial to soldiers whose remains were never brought home to Canada.

Jonathan Roberts, David Campbell, Corey Slumkoski and Martha Walls of Mount Saint Vincent University wrote a commentary for The Chronicle Herald earlier this month saying the project "falls into a trap of blind patriotism." 

'There's a problem of being monumental.' - Jonathan Roberts

Roberts says he doesn't think anyone who visits the site will go away with any deeper knowledge of Canada's wars.

"We're not trying to be anti-veteran," he said. "We're not trying to be negative ... but we feel the monument is not appropriate to commemorating the First World War or other wars because it distills down the story of those wars in kind of a simplified statue and mainly about soldiers dying and those who participated in those wars." 

Mother Canada is the memorial's centrepiece, featuring a woman with her arms outstretched toward Europe.

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"We're concerned that a giant statue, which is a colossus, might be the wrong kind of public art to remember wars with," Roberts said.

Jonathan Roberts teaches history at Mount Saint Vincent's University. (CBC)

The professor adds that large statues have been falling out of favour all over the world for years.

"Canada has never built a colossus before. We' re not really in the business of building giant statues because they are so politically divisive," he said. "If it were the case that a giant statue generated economic development there would be a lot of giant statues all over the place." 

"Those statues don't really fit the Canadian culture as we see it."

He says they make sense in other countries: large religious statues or shrines to dictators in former communist countries.

The memorial plan also includes parking for 300 vehicles, a restaurant, souvenir shop and an interpretive centre. The group of teachers points out that the foundation's website has some letters and photos online, and it might be more worthwhile to put that online.

"There's a problem of being monumental. We think it really simplifies things. We feel people will go to the monument to see the monument rather than get a sense of what happened and how complex the war was and how much misery people suffered," said Roberts.

The professor's comments comes on the heels of a support rally in Green Cove Sunday where about 180 people turned out to show their support.

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