Cenotaph makeover marks revamp of service

Stakeholders involved in contemplated changes at Uplands cenotaph site

Coun. Tara Ney is on the task force to look at how Oak Bay’s cenotaph can continue to respect the past while honouring the present and planning for the future.

With the face of veterans changing, Oak Bay hopes to meld respect for past traditions with additional inclusivity of religious, cultural and educational ideas.

The plan includes investigating changes to both the ceremony and the park landscape surrounding Oak Bay’s cenotaph.

“We have met with the organizers of the Remembrance Day ceremony and we are examining ways to include remembrance of those who have more recently served Canada,” said Coun. Tara Ney, chair of the Oak Bay Cenotaph Task Group overseeing the contemplated changes. “We want to have a ceremony that honours the beliefs of those who are there, without excluding others. That is the aspiration.”

That task group also includes Jayden Cromier, serving member of the Canadian Forces Reserve, Renè de Vos, environmental/landscape advocate, Patrick Frey, former director of the BC Heritage Branch, citizenship judge Gerald Pash, a retired Canadian Forces Reservist, and Jean Sparks, archivist and heritage specialist. They seek to balance a respect of the past and present while planning for the future as the group delves into how to conserve, renew and revise the cenotaph in Oak Bay.

“The physical landscape shapes our experience for remembrance – who we remember. We want to rearrange the landscape so that it is respectful and inclusive,” Ney said. “The initiative will provide an opportunity to strengthen public recognition of the site as a special place.”

That could include extending the site as a memorial for other public safety personnel.

“We want to enhance its use as a place of remembrance and reflection beyond its traditional association with the annual Nov. 11 Remembrance Day ceremony,” Ney said. “This is our space in Oak Bay where we can do that.”

Among the initiatives beyond landscaping and memorial markers, they plan to nominate the cenotaph to the Canadian Register of Historical Places. They also hope to garner an understanding of the traditional Songhees and Esquimalt nations’ use of the land in that area.

The Oak Bay Cenotaph was constructed in 1948 and dedicated to those who gave their lives during the Second World War. It is a designated Municipal Heritage Site. They also plan to evaluate options for making site more accessible without causing inappropriate alterations to the cenotaph, minimizing environmental impact and respecting the heritage designation. They hope to also address parking and pedestrian access.

Veteran’s Affairs Canada has matching funds available to assist with the project and the group plans to request council set aside money to support.  They also hope to garner financial aid and in-kind support from individuals and businesses to gain the maximum amount of matching federal money.  “It is important that we augment our team to prepare a conceptual plan to present to the community in November and then a detailed plan for council to review and with its approval make an application for Veterans Affairs funding early in the New Year,” Ney said.

When council accepted the committee’s interim report this summer, it asked the group to provide a work plan with recommendations and a list of priorities. Those looking to get involved in the project plan can contact Ney at taraney@shaw.ca or 250-592-1966.

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