War Museum 'pleased' NCC board understands memorial concerns

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  2. The Canadian War Museum says it appreciates that the National Capital Commission’s board of directors decided to hold off on a decision to allow adjacent land to be used for a new Afghanistan war memorial.

    “We’re just really pleased those concerns were put forward and they seem to be understood,” said Yasmine Mingay, the museum’s director of public affairs, major gifts and sponsorship.

    The NCC board was asked on Tuesday to approve 2,500 square metres of land west of the War Museum to be used for the National Memorial to Canada’s Mission in Afghanistan, should Canadian Heritage and Veterans Affairs Canada choose the site for the project.

    However, the board in 2015 approved another location for the memorial on roughly 800 square metres of land on Richmond Landing, near the Portage Bridge.

    The NCC owns both sites.

    After learning about the War Museum’s opposition, the NCC board put off the decision on Tuesday until members could receive more information.

    There was confusion over why there was another parcel of land eyed for the memorial when the board already granted approval for Richmond Landing.

    At a meeting for the Veterans Affairs’ commemoration advisory group in July 2016, members voted 6-2 (with two other members absent) in favour of the Richmond Landing site.

    The site next to the War Museum became important to Canadian Heritage after a defence and veteran stakeholder summit of 149 participants in October 2016 in Gatineau.

    A synopsis of the discussion on the Veterans Affairs website says, “There was great support for the memorial to be located next to the War Museum,” and there was a suggestion that Afghanistan veterans and their families should be consulted.

    The Veterans Affairs commemoration advisory group was subsequently told both sites would require $500,000 in cleanup costs for contaminated soil, which would be “manageable” within the $5-million budget for the memorial project.

    Last spring, the NCC received a request from Canadian Heritage to use the land west of the War Museum for the memorial. NCC management recommended that board members approve the request.

    NCC board chair Marc Seaman agreed that deferring the decision was the right move on Tuesday.

    Mingay said the War Museum doesn’t oppose the memorial, pointing to the museum’s past exhibits on the Afghanistan mission and an upcoming section of the gallery that will highlight Canada’s last five missions, including the country’s role in Afghanistan.

    The museum wants to be considered a “public history museum” and a “centre of scholarship” that doesn’t emphasize one particular conflict, Mingay said.

    It’s also concerned about a memorial interfering with the museum’s landscape, particularly its connection with the Ottawa River.

    Asked if there was any circumstance that would convince the War Museum to support the location for the memorial, Mingay said, “We’re not going to be dealing with hypotheticals.”

    The Royal Canadian Legion, which is part of the Veterans Affairs commemoration advisory group, wants the memorial project to move ahead without delays but it’s open to discussing possible sites other than Richmond Landing.

    Legion spokesperson Nujma Bond said the organization can’t disclose how it voted in that 6-2 decision in July 2016 because of confidentiality rules of the advisory group.

    There were two other possible locations plucked from an inventory of commemorative sites in the capital region: land outside Cartier Square Drill Hall jointly owned by the NCC and Department of National Defence, and the lawn of the Canadian Phalanx at Wellington and Lyon streets owned by the City of Ottawa.

    Jody Mitic, a city councillor who was one of more than 40,000 Canadian Forces members to serve in Afghanistan, highlighted the importance of having a memorial to the mission.

    While Mitic said there doesn’t have to be a monument for every single mission, noting the National War Memorial on Elgin Street represents all conflicts, he said Afghanistan is special because it’s one of Canada’s longest military engagements.

    “Anyone asking that question obviously wasn’t there and doesn’t have a dog in the fight because they would understand it is important to have a monument,” Mitic said.

    jwilling@postmedia.com

    twitter.com/JonathanWilling

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