Federal government calls for War of 1812 national monument

Ottawa Citizen


September 12, 2012

Actors with Parks Canada wait for the start of activities during commemoration events for the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 at the Halifax Citadel National Historic site in Halifax, N.S., on June 18.

Actors with Parks Canada wait for the start of activities during commemoration events for the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 at the Halifax Citadel National Historic site in Halifax, N.S., on June 18.

Photograph by: Mike Dembeck , THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA — The federal government’s desire to raise the profile of the War of 1812 has included historical re-enactments at Winterlude, an exhibit at the Canadian War Museum and a website available via mobile application — and by the end of the commemoration of the conflict’s bicentennial anniversary there will also be a permanent reminder on Parliament Hill.

The National Capital Commission and the Department of Canadian Heritage have put out a call to artists to design a new national monument to mark the pre-Confederation war, which lasted from 1812 to 1814.

The monument is expected to be unveiled in front of the East Block in 2014, said Sylvie Tilden, the NCC’s senior manager responsible for the project.

“Having commemorations in a capital city are such important symbols and they really help communicate an important chapter of our history. It’s a great opportunity, as well, to showcase Canadian artistic talent, especially in such a prominent location,” Tilden said.

The government has already spent $28 million to mark the anniversary, which was worked into Canada Day celebrations and merited a commemorative coin and stamp.

However, a recent poll conducted for National Defence showed that many Canadians’ knowledge about the conflict fought between British forces, colonial Canadian troops, First Nations and invading American armies is vague.

The call is open until Oct. 22 to any professional artist who is a citizen or permanent resident of Canada, according to the online “request for qualifications” form. Five finalists will be asked to present a design concept to a jury of professionals in March.

“The War of 1812 was a seminal event in the making of our great country,” says the online form. “This monument will be a national tribute to recognize the courage and bravery of those who served during the War of 1812 and who successfully defended their land in the fight for Canada.”

The government will pay for construction costs in addition to the $787,000 artists’ fee, Tilden said.

The announcement comes as the future of the Kandahar Airfield cenotaph in honour of those who died in Afghanistan remains uncertain.

The cenotaph, with the faces of slain soldiers and civilians etched on granite plaques, was disassembled and returned to Canada at the end of the Kandahar combat mission last fall and remains in storage in Ottawa.

Michael Blais, the president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, suggested the cenotaph should be prioritized over a memorial for the War of 1812.

“This monument is probably the most important monument in our modern history. This was created by those who were serving in Afghanistan at the time to honour the fallen,” Blais said.

“If we send our young kids to war, they should be treated with the same respect as were those that fought in every other battle. That monument should be in a place of honour.”

He suggested putting it in Confederation Square as part of the National War Memorial — or if it can’t withstand Ottawa’s harsh winters, perhaps the National War Museum.

The National War Memorial, dedicated in 1939, was originally designed to commemorate the fallen from the First World War. The dates of the Second World War and Korean War were later added to its granite sides.

Defence sources said an attempt by the military to have the dates of the Afghan conflict carved into the war memorial have been blocked by Veterans Affairs, which argued internally that recognizing Afghanistan would open the door to petitions from ex-Cold War soldiers and peacekeepers.

A spokesman for Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney said no formal proposal to alter the memorial has been considered by the minister.

“Decisions such as this require ministerial approval, which in this case was never given,” said Niklaus Schwenker.

“These are not decisions which can be made at a staff level. We will always consider any proposal that we receive related to the commemoration of Canada’s heroes.”

Still, Blais said a memorial for the War of 1812 is long overdue.

“It only took them 200 years to get around to it,” Blais said. “We should embrace our history. The War of 1812 could arguably be called a defining moment in our history.”

He emphasized it’s only a good idea depending on cost.

“Let’s not put $10 million into this thing, by any means,” he said, adding that a national monument is preferable to “a vast expenditure of money on small cenotaphs across the nation.”

with files from The Canadian Press

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