Radio — The fight against the Mother Canada monument


On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Sean Howard and Sandra Barr. They are members of Friends of Green Cove, a group that formed to protect land in a national park on Cape Breton Island from the threat posed by “Mother Canada” — a proposed war memorial that many critics see as unnecessary, tacky, and very poorly located.

One of the political drives of the Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper was to make whatever use it could of both state and allied non-state institutions to promote increased militarism in the culture and as part of Canadian national identity. A couple of years ago, a Toronto businessman with Conservative Party connections conceived a plan to construct a new monument to Canada’s war dead. At least some who heard about the plan were initially incredulous — not only was there skepticism that existing monuments were somehow insufficient to the task of commemoration, but also amusement and disbelief that the intent was to construct an enormous statue with outstretched arms called “Mother Canada” smack in the middle of a national park on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, a site with no historical connection to Canadian involvement in the World Wars, in such a way that one of the key natural features of that park would be significantly damaged and altered. But the plans to put a monument in Green Cove were serious, and they soon had the support of the Conservative cabinet, which issued a directive that remains secret but that seems to have been behind Parks Canada dealing with the proposal, at least so far, with a process that has been both unusual and minimal, and with something very much less than a critical eye.

Once it became clear that the proposal had powerful backing and momentum, some residents of the local community, of Cape Breton Island more broadly, and of Nova Scotia as a whole began to express serious concerns. These concerns came from numerous different perspectives, but by the beginning of June of this year they had coalesced into an organization called Friends of Green Cove, which has a single clear objective: preventing the construction of the monument and protecting the “unique place of peace and beauty on Parks Canada land in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.”

Sean Howard teaches political science at Cape Breton University and has been a long-time participant in movements for peace and social justice, and he is the spokesperson for the group. Sandra Barr has for almost 40 years been a geology professor at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, and her research has mostly been focused on Cape Breton Island, including Green Cove. They speak with me about the monument, the site, and the campaign to save Green Cove from the damage that this monument would cause.

Since this interview was recorded, there have been further developments in this struggle: The new Liberal government has committed to not providing the monument with any public funding. However, as Howard and Barr relate in the interview, though the Liberals have also committed to some kind of review of the project, the details of that review are not clear, and the struggle to protect Green Cove is far from over.

To learn more about Friends of Green Cove, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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