‘2 lbs of Baloney in a 1-lb Bag’: The Mother Canada Letters

I’ve just waded through 811 pages of documentation received as a result of an access to information request to Parks Canada on the subject of the Never Forgotten National Memorial (Mother Canada, to you) and I have two things to report:

  1. By businessman Tony Trigiani’s own account, it was Cape Breton Highlands National Park (CBHNP) Superintendent Helene Robichaud who suggested the controversial Green Cove location for the monument.
  2. Parks Canada has no policy on memorials or monuments.

I’ve long wondered how this monument idea ever got any traction with Parks Canada. I found it hard to believe one man could muscle so implausible a project onto the national agenda and yet, according to the various briefing notes I’ve read, Trigiani did just that. Here’s how he explained it himself, in an October 2011 letter to Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) Deputy Minister Suzanne Tining (a letter Robichaud edited for him):

I approached Mr. Keith Hillier of Veterans Affairs with this dream/idea in 2010 I was then successfully able to make personal contact with him and we had a number of short and very positive conversations in which he offered in May of 2010 to organized [sic] a conference call on June 30, 2010 involving, himself, Helene Robichaud and Chip Bird from Parks Canada, and Sonya Sheen and Nicole Thorsteinson from Veterans Affairs and of course myself!

The result of that conference call, was the clear suggestion by Mr. Keith Hillier, that I work closely with Ms. Helene Rohichaud [sic] from Parks Canada in selecting an [sic] suitable site for this proposed memorial and on completion resume contact with himself in order to move this project forward with Veterans Affairs.

Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney and Environment Minister Peter Kent didn’t sign letters of support for the project until 2012–and Trigiani had real difficulty getting access to Kent, he actually had to ambush him at the opening of Kent’s new office in Thornhill and give him an information package on the monument before Kent asked Parks Canada about the project. See this email from Parks Canada CEO Alan Latourelle to Monica Kugelmass, Kent’s senior policy advisor, on 12 April 2012 (Kugelmass has just asked for an update on the CBHNP memorial):

“Minister very informally met him [Trigiani] during the Minister’s open house in his riding. They did not have a chance to speak, he just gave the Minister the package….”

But Hillier’s request seemed to be all it took to get Robichaud involved.

 

WOW!!!!!

On 8 December 2010, Robichaud emailed Trigiani to suggest possible locations for the bereft behemoth:

Good morning- if you have time before or early after the holidays- I would be happy to discuss with you possible locations for a memorial. We have indentifies [sic] 2 very interesting locations within Cap [sic] Breton Parks Canada properties that would be more then [sic] suitable.

  1. Louisboirg [sic] to coincide with the 2013 anniversary of
  2. Around Cape Rouge- near Cheticamp

By 2011, however, she had clearly come up with a better idea. Here’s Trigiani in a September 2011 email to Robichaud:

I was very excited to be able to return to Nova Scotia last Thursday with Bob Davey [the general manager of Norstar Corporation, Trigiani’s industrial food packaging company] and drive up to the Green Cove site…spending several hours getting a really great overview of the entire location, which you kindly offered of [sic] our consideration…[emphasis mine]

I am honestly not trying to be melodramatic here in anyway [sic] but we both felt that the site/location itself (‘or whatever’) seemed to actually know our reasons for being there and was somehow or in some fashion reaching out to us in a sympathetic, moving and convincing manner of bonding with our thoughts, add freely and strongly to our emotions and very much join and encouraging us in our dreams and hopes of what could be, or better still what should be, built there for the respect and acknowledgement of those lost generations of war, and of course, for the many, many generations yet to come!

(There’s another little-known fact about the project—Green Cove itself supported it. Who knew?)

But the full extent of Robichaud’s involvement really becomes clear in this 3 January 2013 email from Trigiani to Field Unit Superintendent (FUS) Chip Bird (for the record, this email is pretty representative of Trigiani’s prose style, which relies heavily on ellipses, emojis and exclamation points):

The first time around, we had actually chosen Lakies Head and made our first presentation to Helene in Halifax based on that site over several others that we had seen at that time…..

Helene had liked the concept but felt that the Lakies Head site was far too small, and we totally agreed with her on that point and were prepared to scale back our version to suit the site if necessary.

Then she asked if we had seen Green Cove, to which I said Green what?????

While for on[e] strange reason or another, I guess that we had actually just driven right by it on a search of suitable sites along the Trail on our way to Ceticamp [sic]

While two weeks later, Bob Davey and myself flew right back to Sydney and drove straight to Green Cove and…….WOW!!!!!

I immediately fell head over heels in love with the very heart and soul of it!

It honestly talked to me Chip, and I to it…….and the rest is history!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Not only did Robichaud suggest Green Cove as a location, in doing so, she explicitly endorsed the outlandish size of the monument.

In February 2013, Bird, Robichaud and John Thomson, director of national celebrations for Parks Canada, braved the snow and cold to visit Green Cove and take a picture that Bird emailed to Trigiani with the following message:

“John, Helene and I visited Green Cove yesterday. As you can see, it was a perfect day to visit and to discuss your incredible vision.”

Bird, Robichaud at Green Cove in winter.

 

Trigiani acknowledged Bird’s support in an 8 August 2013 email:

Good Morning Chip…….There is no doubt, whatsoever, that I have always believed that your heart and soul is fully committed to realization of the Never Forgotten Memorial Complex…

To which Bird replied:

You have my assurance that I am pushing this hard. Everything associated with this initiative is extremely important to me and is being treated accordingly.

But the businessman saved his highest praise for Robichaud and James Gilbert (who replaced Hillier at Veterans Affairs), stating, in a March 2012 letter to Environment Minister Peter Kent:

I will, however, like to take this opportunity to clearly state, in no uncertain terms, that if it was not for the professionalism, encouragement and ongoing vital support given by Ms Robichaud from the very start of the project, as well as the crucial assistance of Mr. James Gilbert, the ADM Veterans Affairs, this matter would have never gotten to this stage in the time frame that it now has, and for this reality, I sincerely thank both of them!

As do we all, I’m sure.

 

‘2 lbs of baloney in a 1 lb bag’

The documents show the back and forth between Veterans Affairs, Parks Canada and Trigiani went on for years. Nobody seemed to have had any problem with the design for or location of the monument. In fact, one of the only items I saw criticized was the project’s original tagline, “If only we could have brought you home!” and that was because VAC feared it might cause it headaches, as explained in the notes from a June 2013 conference call:

…a concern was expressed regarding the possibility that this tagline and associated statements could re-open the debate on the repatriation of Canadians who died before 1970. Mr. Trigiani explained that this emotional and symbolic expression should be considered as poetry, as a ‘whispering cry,’ rather than a statement, a promise or a commitment.

(And here, I admit it, words fail me. Feel free to insert your own commentary.)

So various federal government employees from Veterans Affairs and Parks Canada worked with Trigiani for three years before Canadians were given any hint of what was being planned for their national park. It wasn’t until August 2013 that Parks Canada made an official announcement about the Never Forgotten National Memorial.

By that time, Trigiani had secured the support of a key “ambassador” for the project, Major-General [REDACTED] Lewis MacKenzie as he is, rather mysteriously, described in the documents. (On the—still extant—project website, he’s referred to as “Major-General Ret’d Lewis MacKenzie,” so I presume the word “retired” was redacted from the ATIP documents for fear of giving comfort to our enemies.)

But behind the scenes, Trigiani was agitated—he did not even know if the Green Cove site would accommodate the monster he was designing (and we know he was doing the designing because Patrick Morell of LANDInc, the firm originally contracted to design the monument, told the National Observer as much. Morell said the original monument was intended to be about three meters high but Trigiani kept asking for it to be bigger. “He eventually worked directly with the rendering artist,” said Morello. “There was no design.”)

On 8 August 2013, Trigiani wrote Bird (after thanking him for “the book and the Louisbourg coffee”):

I cannot stress how extremely urgent it is Chip, for the NFNM Foundation to get a much more clearer picture as to what exactly we “now” have to work with on the existing Green Cove site and what may be available moving forward in the very near future…

My deepest fear is that what I have been proposing for some time now, may indeed be the equivalent of trying to put…. “2 lbs of baloney in a 1 lb bag” or in other words, what is being suggested to everyone from the Prime Minister down, will not fit on the existing site……Period!

 

Small Metal Plaque

Which seems like a good point to consider the second thing I learned from these documents: Parks Canada has no official policy on memorials or monuments.

According to an email from Darlene Pearson, director of the legislative & regulatory affairs branch of the Protected Area Establishment and Conservation Directorate, to Diane Wilson, senior activity analyst at Parks Canada:

There is nothing in Agency policy that deals with establishing memorials on national park or national historic sites lands. The issue of erecting monuments or memorials does come up frequently and is dealt with on an ad hoc basis, with the decision generally being left to the FUS or site superintendent. I believe that a memorial plaque was allowed in Banff NP last year (small metal plaque commemorating a former park vis[i]tor/climber, placed in an unobtrusive location) but do not have the details.

I am attaching a couple of documents which show that NHS has considered this issue and has developed at least one discussion paper and draft guidelines on this. However, neither document has been finalized into guidelines approved for general use in the Agency.

That issue paper notes that there are a total of 89 memorials spread across 25 of the national historic sites administered by Parks Canada, the majority being “plaques (some mounted on cairns),” along with “some monuments,” the balance consisting of “interpretive panels, tree plantings, signs, etc.”

What there isn’t, anywhere, is a honking, 24-meter statue of a “bereft” woman, “staring,” as a friend described her, “at Newfoundland like she wants to eat our children.”

Mind you, there was a sort-of precedent in the form of the “Glacier Skywalk” in Alberta’s Jasper National Park. That project, approved in 2012, allowed a private company to convert “a free lookout to a ‘pay as you go’ large infrastructure that counters standing Park Policy of minimal development,” as retired Parks employee Nikita Lopoukhine put it.

But even given the tenor of the times—unwavering support for all things military (except, perhaps, injured veterans), a conviction that National Parks should be revenue generators—the gap between a “small metal plaque” and a 24-meter statue is so vast it’s hard to imagine how it could be bridged. The secret, apparently, was to be found in the word “national.”

[Robichaud] explained that if the word ‘National’ were not included, this could be a deal breaker for Parks Canada. She explained that, as Parks Canada’s mandate is not associated with memorials, it is important for the project to be national in scope in order for Parks Canada to consider granting the use of land for this purpose. (Never Forgotten National Memorial teleconference, 13 June 2012)

 

Curtains

Having read the paper trail attached to the project, I now think it very unlikely Trigiani’s dream would ever have become reality—by 2014, noting that fundraising was not exactly proceeding apace, Parks Canada officials higher up the food chain started getting rather stern about “full funding” being in place before the construction of any phase of the project.

Public input into the Never Forgotten National Memorial was sought in spring 2015 and in the fall of that year, you may recall, Canadians voted in a new government, so the results of the public consultations, in a November memorandum, were conveyed to a new Environment Minister:

The majority of feedback on the project has been negative. Criticism centres on lack of public consultation on the Memorial’s location, aesthetics of the statue, appropriateness within a national park, the environmental assessment process, and concerns surrounding unique geological formations easily accessible at Green Cove.

(None of which, might I point out, were matters of concern to the superintendent of the CBHNP or the field unit superintendent, although 28 former senior Parks Canada managers were scathing in their assessment of the project.)

The memo also underlined that “some key elements within the Memorandum of Understanding” had “not been realized.” These included:

  • Agreement on structuring of funding for construction and maintenance;
  • Agreement on a final definitive design plan;
  • Proof of funds for construction and ongoing maintenance; and
  • Agreement on the date the Memorial is to open to the public, originally planned for July 1, 2017. This is no longer feasible and a new date would need to be determined.

That, in essence, was Mother Canada’s obituary: in February 2016, Parks Canada deep-sixed the project in a press release that stated a review had found “too many key elements were outstanding” for a completion date of July 1, 2017.

And while we dodged that bullet, Parks Canada, as far as I know, is still without a policy on memorials and monuments. If the next Tony Trigiani who wants to pave paradise and put up a parking lot is a more accomplished fundraiser, he could succeed.

Maybe it’s time to dust off that issue paper and give some thought to establishing a few rules that might stop him.

(I’ve had to delete the Parks Canada files from my Dropbox. If you’d still like to see them, Send me an email)

This article first appeared on goCapeBreton.com.

 

 

 

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