As It Happens

Retired Major-General Lewis MacKenzie defends 'Mother Canada'

The proposed "Mother Canada" statue and memorial for Cape Breton loses several high-profile honorary patrons. But retired Major-General Lewis MacKenzie still supports it.
Mother Canada statue as proposed for Cape Breton / Major-General (retired) Lewis MacKenzie (Never Forgotten Memorial Foundation / The Lavin Agency)
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It hasn't even been built, but already it is looming large. The 25-metre-high "Mother Canada" statue is the centrepiece of the proposed "Never Forgotten National Memorial", planned for Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

The project has generated controversy for its size, its appearance, its location, and -- as we heard from the Vimy Foundation last week (Part One) -- even its name.

Then, this past weekend, the CBC's Peter Mansbridge, as well as CTV's Lisa LaFlamme and Lloyd Robertson, dropped their names from the list of public supporters of the project to honour Canada's war dead. 

But retired Major-General Lewis MacKenzie still supports it.

He's Honorary Ambassador for the Never Forgotten National Memorial project, and he tells As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner that all the controversy over the project is "very disappointing...and, you know, there are so many erroneous sort-of facts floating around this thing. I mean if I came into it cold -- I'd disagree with it too."

Much of the controversy over the "Mother Canada" statue has been about its design. On the issue of how it would look, MacKenzie says, "Isn't that surprising, because back in the 1920's there was a competition for the "Canada Bereft" statue, which ended up at Vimy Ridge representing "Mother Canada". Walter Allward won that competition and he sculpted that figure. And now, we have the encouragement of the Allward family to use that figure and to mirror its image. So for people to refer to it as grotesque and ugly, I mean...it's hard to comprehend that they would describe it that way."

A recent Globe & Mail editorial called the statue "hubristic, ugly and just plain wrong."

The location, inside the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, has also been controversial. But MacKenzie stands by the monument.

"Well, it couldn't be a more beautiful location...[and] in my estimation, a more appropriate location. It is probably one of the last spots seen by hundreds of thousands of soldiers on their way to World War One and World War Two. It very much symbolizes something that's unique for Canada. And that is that over 99 per cent of our "fallen" are buried outside of Canada. And so it's very much a symbol of welcoming home those that we couldn't bring home."

Last month As It Happens spoke with Sean Howard of the Cape Breton, Nova Scotia group called Friends of Green Cove, who are opposed to the "Mother Canada" statue and the "Never Forgotten National Memorial".