OTTAWA - The Harper government wants to commemorate the War of 1812 in stone and asked Tuesday for artists who want to design a national monument to step forward with their qualifications.
The bids will be considered even as the military struggles to get recognition for the war in Afghanistan and to find a home for the battlefield cenotaph that once sat at Kandahar Airfield.
The National Capital Commission and Canadian Heritage issued the call for artists, saying the 1812 monument will be placed on Parliament Hill.
The government hopes to have the structure designed, built and installed by the end of 2014, capping two years of celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the war. The artwork budget is $780,000, and with landscaping and infrastructure the final bill could top $1 million.
"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," said the online qualifications request.
"It will help Canadians learn more about this defining moment in our history."
A recent poll conducted for National Defence showed that, despite $28 million in commemorative activities, many Canadians have only a foggy recognition of the conflict fought by British forces, colonial Canadian troops, First Nations and invading American armies.
At the same time, efforts to get the war in Afghanistan — and its 158 dead to date — recognized nationally have stalled.
Defence sources said an attempt by the military to have the dates of the conflict carved into the National War Memorial in Ottawa 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.
The war memorial, dedicated in 1939, was originally designed to commemorate the dead of the First World War. The dates of the Second World War and Korean War were later added to its granite sides.
A spokesman for Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney said no formal proposal to alter the war 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."
Meanwhile, the status of the Kandahar cenotaph remains uncertain, said the officer who is in charge of finding it a home.
The monument, 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. It sits in storage in Ottawa.
Heritage Canada preservation experts concluded the white marble and black granite structure would not survive an Ottawa winter if left outdoors, Lt.-Col. Rob Foster said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
There was some discussion about modifying the memorial, but there is a reluctance to tamper with it.
"This was a battlefield monument made for soldiers by soldiers and, if you start to dismantle it, you're taking away that integrity and that sanctity, if you will, of that monument," said Foster.
"So, that's when I started pushing and said: 'Hang on. Let's see what other options are available to us and could we find a place to house it indoors in its current configuration?'"
Housing the memorial in an existing building would be tough because of its enormous weight and one option under consideration is to erect a purpose-built home somewhere in downtown Ottawa.
There is also talk of putting it in the yet-to-be-built National Defence headquarters at a converted business site in west Ottawa. But that is rejected by veterans groups, which say it must be downtown and accessible to families and the public.
"I would suggest that the Afghanistan cenotaph is perhaps one of the most important and nation-relevant war memorials of this nation's modern history," said Mike Blais of Canadian Veterans Advocacy.
"Canada's sons and daughters who suffered the ultimate consequences of war in Afghanistan must be accorded the same level of respect as those who fought at Vimy Ridge, Juno Beach and Kapyong, not relegated to a location kilometres away from Parliament and the National War Memorial."
Mark Kristmanson, director of monument construction at the National Capital Commission, said his agency is co-operating with National Defence in a search for a home for the cenotaph.
It was suggested last year that the Kandahar memorial would be reassembled in time for next year's final withdrawal of Canadian trainers from Kabul, but Foster says that cannot be guaranteed.
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