I was fortunate as a boy to have lived for a few years in Ingonish. Like all kids, I was a sponge, and I soaked up every ounce of the experience. My father was the General Works Manager for the Cape Breton Highlands National Park; he was my personal Park guide. Over countless hikes along the Highland’s wooded trails and rugged shorelines, I came to understand (insofar as a child can) the importance of National Parks. As he explained it to me those many years ago, the “National Park” system was, and is, intended to protect the natural beauty of the Canadian landscape from human development; to ensure that certain small regions of this country’s wilderness would survive the onslaught of a resource hungry species; to provide Canadians with a means of temporarily escaping the shackles of urban and suburban modernity.
War was never part of that dialogue; perhaps I was too young, or perhaps it was still too soon after Vietnam to be comfortably discussed at the dinner table. After all, the Highlands were a refuge for many Americans seeking to avoid conscription. Likewise, the Highlands were home to Canadian veterans who had risked their lives in active duty; memories were still too fresh and scars had yet to heal. Now, almost forty years later, conversations about war are still unpleasant and uncomfortable, but are also unavoidable. A century of horror and loss demands reflection and contemplation; sacrifice demands recognition
When Toronto businessman Tony Trigiani proposed the erection of a ten storey high, war memorial in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the reception was understandably mixed. “Mother Canada” would be an elegant, granite statue of a woman peering out across the Atlantic in the direction of Vimy Ridge; an inspiring symbol commemorating the sacrifices that have been made to ensure our freedom from tyranny. In all likelihood, the site would become a destination for tourists from around the world; a place where they could find closure, lay their memories to rest, and seek solace in the quiet permanence of the cliffs at the edge of the continent. To accommodate large crowds at peak times of year, the venue would include the necessary parking for up to three-hundred vehicles.
As would be expected, there is much debate over the design of the Monument. Beauty is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder. For many, myself included, it is not the appearance of the monument, but rather the proposed location that raises eyebrows. Green Cove sits on the northwest shore of the The Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The location is picturesque, with its pink granite boulders rising defiantly up from the sea. This type of shoreline is not uncommon in Cape Breton. Safe within the boundaries of the National Park, it should be assumed that Green Cove would have some immunity from the impact of human development. Though some man-made structures are necessary to facilitate and support Park visitors, these structures are purposefully constructed to be as unobtrusive as possible with a purpose that reflects the original intention and philosophy of a natural park.
With utmost respect to our men and women of uniform, past and present, the proposed monument is simply out-of-place within the boundaries of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The north coast of Cape Breton is dotted with coves very similar to Green Cove. The monument could just as easily be built with the same resolute solitude in one of a dozen other unprotected coves, open to development, on either Crown or private land immediately north or south of the National Park boundary.