On the storm-swept shores at the northern tip of Cape Breton Island, Canadians are being asked to imagine a 24-metre-high figure of Mother Canada, reaching out with an expression of hope and longing.
The awe-inspiring statue is a plan by Toronto businessman Tony Patrick Trigiani to create a counterpart to Canada’s iconic, brooding figure at Vimy Ridge, in France. But while the ‘Canada Bereft’ figure at Vimy represents a woman with eyes downcast and arms at her side, mourning her dead, the proposed Mother Canada figure will have her arms outstretched with a slightly hopeful gaze, ever longing for their return.
With the backing of Parks Canada and the federal government, the statue is the centrepiece of what is officially known as the ‘Never Forgotten National Memorial,’ to be built on Remembrance Point at Green Cove, on the scenic Cabot Trail within Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
“We really don’t need another statue in Ottawa or, for that matter, in downtown Toronto,” Trigiani tells Leaders and Legacies. “We need it where there is a proud military history, near Halifax, which was the centre of the universe for both major wars.”
Trigiani, who is the owner of a food packaging company called Norstar Corporation in Toronto, says the tip of Nova Scotia was the last thing men and women in uniform saw or sensed before being shipped across the North Atlantic.
The memorial was never meant to be just a statue, the business owner says, but a comprehensive educational experience and learning opportunity for all Canadians. After the statue is built, he envisions a “We See Thee Rise Observation Deck” in front of the statue. Behind it, he sees “The Commemorative Ring of True Patriot Love.” This feature will showcase a low wall of metal plaques that honour Canadian war dead, wherever they may lie. In the future, a “With Glowing Hearts National Sanctuary” will also be built, including an interpretive centre, souvenir shop and a snack bar. A ‘Recognition and Gratitude Pavilion’ will bring in the contributions Canadian women made during the wars, with symbolic nods to four areas of everyday life — home, school, farms, and factories.
Future stages call for an extensive series of naturalized pathways to be called the “Boardwalk of the North Atlantic,” which will be designed to allow visitors to walk safely along the Cabot Trail, something which isn’t readily available at this time, according to Trigiani. In addition to the boardwalk, he says there will be many places to sit and enjoy “expansive views of the sea” along the entire length of the future Never Forgotten National Memorial complex.
While there has been opposition to the memorial at the local level, Trigiani says they are going through all the proper steps from environmental assessments to ensuring the site does not infringe on any sacred burial grounds of Aboriginal people. In the four-stage building process, he expects shovels to be in the ground next spring. The statue itself, an observation deck, and the ring behind Mother Canada is the first stage, which will be completed by July 1, 2017, on the 150th anniversary of Canada. Other stages consist of the creation of various other buildings and infrastructure.
“It’s highly symbolic that we can do this then, sandwiched between the anniversary of the two world wars,” says Trigiani. “But it’s also about all the conflicts and wars afterwards, too. But I have to say, it’s about more than wars, as well.”
Trigiani, whose father arrived in the Toronto area from Italy in 1949, says he was just two years old when he and his mother followed in 1950. They settled in Mimico, a blue-collar, Anglo-Saxon neighbourhood in the Etobicoke area of the city.
“We have woven in a unique gesture of welcoming with her outstretched arms. Just like my father and my whole family was welcomed to Canada long ago, she is welcoming the ever-changing fabric that is now Canada,” he says.
Trigiani says the project has always been about doing something for the whole country.
“This is one of the very few times in this ethnically diverse and modern country where we can all participate in the building of a memorial of this nature, which has both national and international significance.”
Second World War Vet’s Perspective
A recent town hall style meeting attracted 300 people to the village of Ingonish’s fire hall, a nearby village close to where the proposed monument would be. Second World War veteran Rory MacRae, 87, says he is proud to support the initiative.
“It’s an honour to the Canadians who lost their lives in Europe in the First and Second World Wars,” he tells Leaders and Legacies. “The majority of the people around here are in favour of it, I can tell you that.”
MacRae served in Canada’s merchant navy from 1943 to 1945.
“I did six crossings through German U-boats,” he recalls. “But there were 2,100 people in our merchant navy who didn’t come back. This statue honours all the people who gave their lives that way.”
MacRae says the Mother Canada statue will not take anything away from the beauty of the area and that it makes sense Trigiani aims to build it at the tip of the national park. He notes the people who are complaining “didn’t say anything about the roads being built along the shore” when this change occurred. The original road was five miles away from the shoreline.
That same shoreline sees its fair share of great Atlantic storms, but Trigiani says there is no reason the statue cannot be engineered to weather them.
“Nothing would make me happier to see her half encrusted in ice and snow in the winter – to show the strength of Mother Canada,” he says passionately. “Let’s give people a reason to go there in the dead of winter and see her. She will be able to take it.”