Cenotaph site and ceremony to be more accessible, inclusive

Task force looks at recognizing all veterans and faiths

Oak Bay is looking at how to broaden use of the cenotaph site.

Last year, during a Remembrance Day ceremony at Glenlyon Norfolk School, Master Corporal Jayden Cormier spoke about his experiences in Afghanistan.

“That was the first time I spoke to a larger public audience. I have spoken to smaller groups before, (but)there were over 750 people in attendance at GNS,” says Cormier, who served with the Canadian Scottish Regiment and augmented the 1st Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry in Afghanistan 2008.

“It is quite an honour, as a young veteran, to be active in the community.”

The powerful speech struck a chord with Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen.

“Jayden really gave a whole new perspective on the intensity of his experiences going to war as such a young person,” says Jensen.

While many people may view war veterans perhaps being older and more seasoned, younger people who return from war also must be given the same respect, Jensen says.

“You really got a sense of the horrors of war. It was incredibly moving, and certainly something that I won’t forget,” Jensen says.

Spurred on by that experience, Jensen launched a task force to look at Oak Bay’s cenotaph and Remembrance Day ceremony.

Originally built to honour the 97 men and women from the municipality who died as a result of the Second World War, Oak Bay’s cenotaph was updated in 2004 to pay respect to all those killed in the First World War, Korean War and during peacekeeping missions.

The cenotaph is also the site of Oak Bay’s annual Remembrance Day ceremony.

With attendance on the rise, Jensen asked the task force to explore broadening the use of the site and to create a ceremony more inclusive to all.

The Oak Bay Cenotaph Task Group includes Cormier,  an environmental specialist, heritage specialist, archivist and citizen judge, as well as the task force chair, Coun. Tara Ney.

A task force report was received and accepted in principle by Oak Bay council, which asked the task force to provide a work plan of their recommendations along with a list of priorities.

One of the major priorities is to re-envision the space where the cenotaph rests with the intention of not only making the ceremony more inclusive, but also making the site more accessible.

“It’s important to make the site more accessible to the public,” Cormier says.

Ney also noted the task force aims to address the rising attendance at the Remembrance Day ceremony, with the hopes of better accommodating the larger crowds.

“We want to look beyond the cenotaph, and expand a vision for the whole space,” Ney says. “The idea of re-envisioning this special place as a place for community, including those who served, to reflect, pay respect, heal and reorient our futures with those who served and sacrificed,  is central.”

Jensen also wants to stress the importance of inclusivity for future ceremonies.

“We want the ceremony to be more inclusive, as well as more secular,” he says.

Obviously, the site is of major significance to Cormier as well. “It’s nice as a young member (of the military) to have a place the community recognizes, but it’s also nice to have a place to go to visit, and reflect. It’s very peaceful and beautiful,” he says, adding preserving the natural beauty of the site is important.

“This is the beginning of this process,” notes Ney. “We have the intention to work with the community and relevant stakeholders are invited to participate.

“We hope to have a service that will be inclusive of all faiths by next Remembrance Day.”

No decisions have been made to make any changes to the site at this point. The site has to be treated with great sensitivity given that it is designated as a heritage site.

However, a recommendation has been made within the report to widen the recognition of the site. Any changes listed within the report must fall within the federal and municipal laws and bylaws in order to be approved.

The full report can be found oakbay.ca.