OTTAWA — Parks Canada's decision to pull its support of the controversial Mother Canada monument has been met with emotions as polarized as the four-year debate over the proposed statue on Cape Breton's famed Cabot Trail.
Parks Canada said Friday there are too many unknowns about the towering Never Forgotten National Memorial ahead of the July 1, 2017, target date, including funding and a definitive design for the monument at Green Cove, N.S.
"Parks Canada will no longer be working towards the realization of the memorial in Cape Breton Highlands National Park,'' Parks Canada CEO Daniel Watson said in a statement.
"Parks Canada appreciates the Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation's vision in honouring Canadians who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and wishes the Foundation success in its on-going pursuits.''
Meg Stokes of the Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation said Friday the group is disappointed and shocked. Stokes suggested that the statue, which had support in the former Conservative government, had become a political pawn.
"We are heartbroken that our project has fallen victim to politics and deeply saddened that so many people in Cape Breton were treated in this shocking manner by Parks Canada,'' said Stokes in a statement.
"This is disappointing to veterans across the country and the current members of the Canadian Forces who support this project.''
The 24-metre statue depicts a doleful woman with her arms outstretched toward Europe and the Canada Bereft monument at Vimy in France.
"This is disappointing to veterans across the country."
The draped figure, meant to embrace soldiers who never returned from distant conflicts, is the brainchild of Toronto businessman Tony Trigiano, who was struck by the number of young Canadians buried in a European cemetery he visited.
The memorial fuelled many water cooler conversations since first being proposed, and attracted the support of a former prime minister, business heavyweights, prominent journalists and the president of the Calgary Flames.
But the ambitious project also cleaved opinion.
Sean Howard, spokesman for the Friends of Green Cove, said the project would have destroyed the rugged coastline and turned Green Cove into "Concrete Cove.''
"We applaud Parks Canada for coming to what we believe to be the only sane and sensible decision,'' said Howard in a phone interview on Friday.
"This was not responsible development. This was an ill-advised adventure that would have lead to the destruction of Green Cove — a very special and important place geologically, culturally and in many other ways to many other people.''
Howard said Parks Canada would have been going against its own mandate to preserve the ecological and cultural integrity of its lands and coastlines.
The Canadian National Vimy Memorial which overlooks the Douai Plain in France. Designed by Canadian sculptor and architect Walter Seymour Allward, the monument took eleven years to build. (Getty Images)
"This project should have never been given serious consideration, and it only was by the previous federal government that was prepared to ride roughshod over the Parks Canada mandate and the National Parks Act,'' said Howard, who also teaches in the political science department at Cape Breton University.
"It looks like that dark era is now over and hopefully we can now begin a new green era of looking after and responsibly developing the national parks.''
Former Conservative cabinet minister Tony Clement said he's disappointed Ottawa has pulled its support of the project.
"Regardless of what you think of the project itself, something that can embrace our sacrifice for Europe at a very dark time should be pursued, and it should be pursued in the province of Nova Scotia,'' said Clement, who was in Halifax on Friday attending the provincial Tory party's annual general meeting.
"New Democrats have long understood that this location posed an ecological threat to the park."
Meanwhile, NDP national parks critic Wayne Stetski said the "monstrosity'' should never have been considered in a national park.
"New Democrats have long understood that this location posed an ecological threat to the park and lacked the support of Canadians,'' he said in a statement.
The Never Forgotten foundation said it spent four years on the memorial and believed it would not harm the environment as some critics argued.
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