Mother Nature not Mother Canada

Since I retired from Parks Canada three years ago I have been trying to stay out of the multitude of controversies that the organization seems to wade into on a regular basis, trying to maintain my health and sanity. I had hoped, upon retirement, to focus on writing, specifically to try and communicate stories about the natural sciences that would engage a new generation in the wonders of nature and the value of parks and protected areas in particular.

My focus was to be non-fiction, but a few days after I retired, Parks Canada was hit with a series of cuts that cut me to the bone and I started blogging about the impacts to our treasured system of special places.

But day after day, writing about the travesties that the current government was imposing on us was just too disheartening, too negative.

I began freelancing and writing a few pieces for Earth Touch, a new multi-media company based in South Africa as well as some volunteer writing and editing. I also took a couple of fiction writing courses at our local college and got turned on to the notion of writing fictional stories based on my more than thirty years working in Canada’s national parks.

I just couldn’t stay away.

But I couldn’t handle the realities of what was happening to our parks so writing non-fiction, for the time being, was off-limits.

So I’m writing fiction, for the most part.

I get asked from time to time what I think about this issue or that related to parks and protected areas and for the most part, I give my response and move on.

Most recently I was asked to sign on to a petition regarding Wood Buffalo National Park as well as a letter protesting the latest issue facing Cape Breton Highlands. The former deals with the multitude of impacts facing what I think of as one of Canada’s most under-appreciated national parks and the latter deals with a proposal to erect a monument in one of this country’s most iconic national parks.

It’s this latest proposal, to erect what is being called the “Mother Canada” memorial in Green Cove in Cape Breton Highlands National Park that is a kind of tipping point for me.

Our veterans are in my view, one of the most deserving groups of Canadians.

Remembrance Day for me is the most significant statutory holiday of the year.

I have worked with veterans for decades and have nothing but respect for the service they gave to our country and the price they paid for doing so.

My parents lived on the “Army Side” near the present day town of Gander in Newfoundland and helped build the town from it’s war-era beginnings. War-related stories were a significant part of my upbringing.

One national park in every province and territory has a memorial to the sacrifices made by each and every person who served our country in wartime. In Cape Breton Highlands, that memorial sits on French Mountain, overlooking the iconic view of the park’s coastline that is known around the world.

The inscription is short but poignant.

“They will never know the beauty of this place,
See the seasons change, enjoy nature’s chorus.
All we enjoy we owe to them, men and women who
Lie buried in the earth of foreign lands and in
the seven seas. Dedicated to the memory of
Canadians who died overseas in the service of their
country and so preserved our heritage.”

It is a deeply meaningful and appropriate memorial, well situated in one of our most special of places. It fits well within the context of a national park and its inscription hits the mark.

A grotesque 26m tall monument in Green Cove, Cape Breton Highlands National Park does not.

There are famous memorials across Europe that play homage to the sacrifices of those who fought and those who lost their lives during the Great Wars. Vimy is one such site and the proposed Mother Canada memorial has been likened to it.

But Vimy was a significant battleground. Green Cove was not.

Let’s not make it one.