By Heather Laskey

Orginally published in

“The Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation will offer ongoing marketing opportunities for individuals and corporate partners.”

A question: What is the purpose of the controversial scheme to build a 30-metre-high figure called “Mother Canada” together with a visitor/tourist complex in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park: Is it primarily as a memorial to Canada’s war dead, or a business opportunity?

Private profit and financial investment are the pervasive, repeated themes in the promotional information of the foundation — whose title, like that of “Mother Canada” — has been trademarked as a retail product. Justice Minister Peter MacKay approvingly referred to it last fall in business terms: “This is very much an initiative that comes from private sector investors.”

The project is the brainchild of Tony Trigiani, a Toronto businessman, with a design and location of his personal choice, and has the approval of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. This has enabled it to go ahead without any of the formalities of public consultations or design criteria. If nothing else, it fits in with Mr. Harper’s policy of promoting an artificial miasma of military-patriotic sentiment — implying that if you’re not for it, then you don’t love your country. Equally, it is acceptable as a business-focused model.

War, of course, has always been good for big business. That is nothing new. Financial profit has always been made in its grief and blood-sodden train. What is innovatory here is the idea that profit can continue to be extracted.

From the foundation’s website: “There will be exclusive opportunities for major donors and partners to be recognized in the naming of halls, galleries and displays throughout the memorial site,” including The Commemoration Ring of True Patriot Love, We See Thee Rise Observation Deck and With Glowing Hearts National Sanctuary. Some business and donor names will be on brass plaques. Not on view, however, will be the names of the war dead. They, says Mr. Trigiani, would be available online. Digitized.

Mr. Trigiani speaks of his passionate wish to rectify what he describes as Canada’s inadequate recognition of its war dead. A perception due, perhaps, to their names alone being inscribed on memorials in virtually every village, town and city. Not, however, the names of corporate sponsors.

The government, said Mr. MacKay, is letting “the private sector investors decide what shape the monument ultimately takes.

“Mr. Trigiani describes the design as a reflection of the Canada Bereaved statue on the Vimy monument in France — a statement appalling to anyone who has seen it, and which, of course, carries no business advertising.

There have been strong objections to a gargantuan structure of mawkish design being placed on a stunning piece of scenery on the edge of the Atlantic in a national park, and also to its precise placement on a famous unique geological outcrop. Mr. Trigiani adamantly refuses to consider his private project being placed elsewhere.

Officially, the cost of construction — estimates vary wildly from $25 million to $60 million — would be covered by raising the money from corporate and individuals’ tax deductible donations. However, it is unlikely that the foundation can raise anything approaching the cost. Peter MacKay indicated how the deficiency will be met by referring to the scheme as a “private-public partnership.” The 3-P model means that ultimately the public would pick up the short- and long-term tab for this “private” investment.

The trademarked “Mother Canada” logo will be placed on souvenir goods for sale at the onsite shop. And the foundation promises “Partners will have the opportunity to share their passion for this Canadian memorial with their employees, customers, suppliers, friends and allies throughout the world.” Presumably, if the young Canadians whose bodies were torn to shreds in two world wars and more recent conflicts had known that their deaths would supply an ongoing corporate investment opportunity, they would have accepted their premature expiry dates with increased satisfaction.

Some local people are in favour of the scheme, but usually say that they want the jobs they’ve heard it would provide. In an area bedeviled by seasonal unemployment, this is understandable, but surely a monument supposedly dedicated to the memory of Canada’s war dead should have more significance than as an employment-generating infrastructure project. Or as a benefit for corporate sponsors.

“Major Gifts. The Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation has developed recognition opportunities for Major Gift donors at varying levels, for both Canadian and International donors.”

Heather Laskey is an author and freelance writer living in Halifax.