NCC calls for sober second look at location of Afghanistan memorial

The NCC's board of directors punted a decision on where to locate a proposed memorial to Canada's 12-year mission in Afghanistan back to the federal government Tuesday for "sober reconsideration and reflection."

Canadian War Museum opposes government's preferred site on the west side of the building

A Canadian soldier carries his weapons after a mission southwest of Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2010. The Canadian government wants to build a memorial to Canada's 12-year mission in the country in Ottawa. (Anja Niedringhaus/The Associated Press)

The National Capital Commission board of directors punted a decision on where to locate a proposed memorial to Canada's military mission in Afghanistan back to the federal government Tuesday for "sober reconsideration and reflection."

The government wants to build the National Memorial to Canada's Mission in Afghanistan on a narrow piece of NCC-owned land just west of the Canadian War Museum, a location that the museum — and its renowned architect Raymond Moriyama — vigorously oppose.

"I am not against a monument to commemorate Canada's mission in Afghanistan. But I am afraid I will definitely oppose the suggested proposed site," said Moriyama, who attended the NCC board meeting, in a letter to the government.

Cars drive past the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa on Oct. 25, 2016.
The Canadian War Museum is asking that the memorial be moved to a different location, partly in order to preserve the museum's neutrality. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

According to an NCC report, the museum's proponents believe that a memorial on the building's west side "would impact and arguably even detract from the architectural vision as originally intended by the architect."

Adding a monument to commemorate one particular conflict or mission "is certain to attract other such requests, further impacting that architectural vision," they added.

Museum officials also said the memorial could interfere with their goal of being a neutral "centre of scholarly excellence." Placing it so close to the museum could cause it to be mistakenly considered part of the institution, they added.

Board uncomfortable with location

A number of board members indicated they were prepared to vote against the location.

"This is a worthy project," said Kay Stanley. "And because it's a worthy project, it deserves a worthy place. And the place, in my estimation, is not at the far end of the war museum property."

Raymond Moriyama, the key architect of the Canadian War Museum, opposed locating the memorial next to the building.
Raymond Moriyama, the key architect of the Canadian War Museum, opposed locating the memorial next to the building. (Giacomo Panico/CBC )

She pointed out that the museum's role is not to compete with the War Memorial as a place of commemoration.

Carol Loughrey, who lives near an armed forces base in New Brunswick, was so choked up speaking about how the 12-year mission in Afghanistan affected soldiers that she couldn't finish her explanation of why she wouldn't support the recommended location.

"I hate to vote against something that honours that incredible choice that was made for these young people," she said.

With little support around the table, Kristmanson suggested the board delay the decision.

"This doesn't preclude in any way the current proposal, but means a sober reconsideration and reflection," Kristmanson said. 

"It will also give us an opportunity to perhaps clarify in greater detail what the design options will entail on the proposed site on the west of the War Museum, and make sure the proponents understand the limitations that would be put in effect on that site."

The CEO insisted that the review could be completed within weeks and wouldn't unduly delay the project, first proposed by the former Conservative government.

NCC CEO Mark Kristmanson suggested that the board delay a decision to approve land west of the Canadian War Museum when it was clear a number of members were in opposition. (Giacomo Panico/CBC )

Second time around 

Tuesday marked the second time that the issue of where to locate the memorial has come before the NCC board.

Last year, the board approved a recommendation to build the memorial at Richmond Landing, which sits along the Ottawa River just south of Victoria Island.

But after the federal government heard from a veterans' group that Richmond Landing was not ideal — it was considered difficult to access, and had poor visibility from the John A. Macdonald Parkway — the decision was revisited, and four NCC-owned properties were considered instead.

There wasn't comfort yet around the table that enough due diligence had been done.- Mark Kristmanson, National Capital Commission CEO

Last October, Veterans Affairs Canada and the Department of National Defence hosted a stakeholder summit where "the majority of participants selected a preferred site west of the War Museum," according to an NCC report.

Having to revisit the issue appeared to vex at least one board member.

"Stakeholders were involved. A recommendation was made. The board approved it," said Michael Pankiw.

NCC board member Michael Pankiw said he didn't know why the board was being asked to reconsider an issue it had already approved. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

"And now the same proponent appears to be coming back and saying 'Well, we've talked to a different group of people and they think that this is a better idea, so therefore we want you to consider this new proposal."

"I guess the clarification that I need is, with respect to — boy, this is going to sound really bad — who is actually making the decisions … that come to us for approval?" he added. "I don't quite understand why this [issue] is even here."

Although the NCC must officially approve the use of land it controls, in reality, the federal government ultimately decides where memorials are located.

"The NCC has to approve federal land use, and eventually we'll have to approve this particular use," Kristmanson told reporters after the meeting. "But you could see there wasn't comfort yet around the table that enough due diligence had been done."