About three dozen Minto residents were at the community centre here on Jan. 27 to hear a proposal to move the Palmerston cenotaph.
Currently the monument is located next to the Palmerston library.
At the meeting’s start, Mayor David Anderson said the cenotaph has remained in the same location since it was put up in the 1920s, shortly after World War I. He has attended some services at its current location.
“Where it is located in the Town of Palmerston is not very visual,” he said.
Although the monument is located within walking distance of public buildings such as the post office and library, Anderson said it is on a back street, with little space for crowds. He said the most recent Remembrance Day service emphasized that.
“It was a great service, but it was pretty congested,” said Anderson.
He added Mother Nature will not always be kind for the services, “But there really wasn’t room for people to get full value of the service.”
Anderson said about 16 months ago, Dr. George Vanner first spoke to council about the potential of moving it. Anderson added that with the work being done in the Palmerston former CN?property park, Vanner thought it might be a good opportunity to place the cenotaph in that park to enhance its visibility.
It would also allow for a bit of upgrading for the monument, Anderson said.
He provided an image of how the cenotaph might appear, using a digitized picture of the current cenotaph transposed over the potential site. He noted it would be behind the Old 81 locomotive, near the tennis courts.
Some of the reasons behind the choice of this particular location included lighting and ease of access, he said. He added the same presentation was made to the Palmerston Legion Branch.
“In general, the Legion had no problem with the move of the cenotaph for greater exposure,” Anderson said.
He noted it’s a little closer to the Legion for walking, though not by much. Plus, Anderson said, there is more room for people to get to it easily during the ceremonies.
The next step involved contacting Wingham Monuments, where owner Mac Anderson provided possible costs. The mayor also noted that the way the cenotaph is now, it is on three levels of pillars, but from a distance it is not a very tall statue.
One ideas is to place another pillar, in proportion to the steps already in place to give it more height and visibility. He added the monument is in good shape overall, although a bit of lettering has worn.
Anderson said after a check with Veterans Affairs, there is 50% funding available for upgrading or moving of cenotaphs. That funding would be to a maximum of $25,000.
He said the proposal has been in the Newspapers, and one woman talked to him, stating she did not want to see it moved. He added some people spoke to councillor Barb Burrows as well, voicing the same opinion.
“As a result, we decided to have a public meeting to see what people thought about the idea … and for them to hear about the rationale behind moving it.”
One thing he stressed, is there is no money in the budget for the move. He said council had recently finished a preview of its 2010 budget.
“Right now, the town does not have any available funds for a project of this size.”
While he agreed it is not a large amount of money, the estimate of $15,000 to $20,000 to heighten the monument and its move. He said other municipalities have considered fundraising through the sale of memorial stones.
For a similar project, in Teeswater, stones are selling for roughly $100.
Anderson added with the Lions park development a walkway, the stones might border the interlocking path around the cenotaph. The fundraiser could pay for some of the costs of the upgrade.
Anderson said the Legion would be interested in running the fundraiser.
Some opinions voiced from the audience made was clear that for some, moving the cenotaph is out of the question.
The first to comment was resident Derek Green, who contended the statue uniform is not relevant to the younger generation. He asked if the statue could be modified to have a helmet to be better recognized as a war memorial.
Vanner said there was also the idea of not only adding to the base layer, but also to place an upright stone next to it to mention other peacekeeping operations Canada has been involved in. Plus, he said, there could be more mention of Korea and Afghanistan.
“In Afghanistan, Canadians have been there since 2002, which makes this the longest war they’ve even been involved in,” Vanner said.
Anderson said that in North Perth, similar additions were made to the Listowel cenotaph with stand-up stones on the edges to include other soldiers from other wars.
The question was raised from the floor about who those other soldiers would be.
“Who would go on those stones if we haven’t lost anyone from those wars?”
The woman also asked if Palmerston has lost any soldiers from other conflicts.
Names on the Palmerston cenotaph currently list the names of the fallen from the First and Second World Wars.
Vanner said the purpose of the monument is not to simply immortalize people in the community. “It is Canada wide.”
Some argued other communities have their own monuments. Anderson explained the idea of the additional stone is something that can be considered at a later time.
“Obviously the current monument, as it is, cannot hold more names.”
One mother in the crowd said her children were upset at the idea of any move, and considered it the same as moving someone’s grave. Others who lost relatives in the wars agreed the idea seemed disrespectful.
However, the contingent that seemed least upset with the idea were veterans themselves.
Their concern was more that the efforts be remembered, not the location where that remembrance occurs.
One concern was locating the cenotaph in a public park might not be appropriate in an area where children are playing games.
“Surely that’s the reason people died – to provide the fact that we can play games,” Green countered. “I, for one, am all for moving it.”
The audience suggested a location in the new park would leave it open to vandalism.
“Vandalism can happen anywhere,” Anderson said.
Another concern was much of the presentation made it sound as if the proposals is a “done deal”.
Anderson said that is why the public meeting was held – to get comments.
Up to now, there had not been any real negativity or questions raised why the move was being proposed.
“It wouldn’t show due diligence if we didn’t try to get that input from the public, he said.”
Local history buff Bob McEachern said the monument was erected in 1922-23 prior to the establishment of local Legion.
Allan Toner, from the Palmerston Legion stated the Legion did not start until 1926. He thought perhaps the town put up the cenotaph, rather than veterans or a community group.
McEachern said at that point in history, the cenotaph location was considered the centre of town with the post office, library, and town hall.
“Personally, I’m really interested in the opinions of the families of those whose names are on the cenotaph. What they feel is probably as important as anything,” he said.
McEachern said to move it without getting those opinions would be a “colossal public relations mistake”.
He said it would be nice to have the cenotaph in a location where there could be a large number of kids present for the Remembrance Day ceremonies. He said the current location does not offer the space to send an entire school to the event.
“But that is still secondary as to how the families feel about moving it,” he said.
Doubts were expressed that schools would send all students since they hold their own service.
Vanner said another reason for the move is it would allow for reasonable sized parades to assemble at the site. He said one of the changes over the years has been to not only honour those who lost their lives in the wars, but for those who have passed on since.
“I think the better location you have, the more it appeals to people … not only service men and women … but in general honouring. I’ve always considered the current location as much too small.”
Anderson added “When you talk about Remembrance Day and remembering the fallen, one of the things I see is that Legion members are also educators. We need someone to keep reminding of the veterans who are still here. We need to keep the memory strong.”
The argument from the audience was the location proposed and its proximity to the tennis courts, and there not being much room.
Anderson liked the idea of contacting family members, since those are the people being remembered.
At the same time, he felt visibility within the community should be a consideration.
While he agreed the cenotaph is for local residents, it is for the whole area as well.
Vanner said that in talking to the surviving veterans, there were no negative voices in regard to moving the cenotaph.
While suggestions made that the additional stones could be placed at the current location, the argument raised was that would congest the existing site even further.
Anderson noted there were a few people in the audience who totally opposed the move.
Allan Toner, said members are not in a position to be for or against.
“It’s not our cenotaph; we do the services there. Whether it is there … or wherever, we will still do the services. We, as a Legion are not for or against. Personally, I like it where it is.”