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Driving force behind giant Mother Canada statue proposed for Cape Breton national park says initiative not dead
If Tony Trigiani’s passion was the sole factor, his proposed Mother Canada statue would already be standing on Cape Breton Island’s rugged northeast coast with her arms outstretched toward Europe.
But even though the idea was officially nixed by Parks Canada almost four years ago, the 72-year-old businessman remains optimistic and adamant that the statue be erected within the boundaries of Cape Breton Highlands National Park on a rocky outcrop at Green Cove.
“Green Cove is the place, that’s where it should be, that’s where it belongs — it spoke to me,” said Trigiani, whose unbridled enthusiasm is obvious as he discusses his dream during a telephone call from his Toronto office.
For more than a decade Trigiani, who is the longtime president of Norstar Corporation, a food-packaging and distribution firm, has championed the cause of the proposed Never Forgotten National Memorial that, along with a 24-metre Mother Canada monument, would also include an interpretive centre and pavilion.
He said the seeds of the idea for a dedicated memorial to Canada’s war dead were sown after a random detour while on business trip to Italy led him to the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery near Ortona, a small town on the Adriatic coast that was the site of a ferocious Second World War battle in December 1943.
Canadian forces eventually won the hard-fought, house-to-house battle, but the cost was high. The nearby cemetery contains the graves of 1,375 Canadian soldiers.
“It really moved me and that’s when I started to think about how many Canadians like myself weren’t even aware of how many war dead there were and where they were,” he said.
Inspired by what he saw in Italy, Trigiani returned to Canada and started the ball rolling on what was to become a controversial proposal. Many people, including retired Canadian major-general Lewis MacKenzie, supported the project and by 2013 a tentative agreement was in place with the federal government.
However, there was also vocal and organized opposition to the monument, mainly that it should not be erected in a national park. Then, in February 2016, Parks Canada announced that it would not transfer land to the foundation for the memorial.
The project, at least with Green Cove as its location, was essentially dead.
But don’t tell that to Trigiani. Or his supporters.
“It’s not dead — we’ve kept the flame alive,” he stated with conviction, adding that while the initiative is not political he suspects it was shelved just months after the 2015 national election because the new Liberal government saw it as a Conservative-endorsed venture.
“We were hoping for a better result in the federal election, preferably a majority Conservative government, but we can work with any government — and with the way our country is divided at the moment, this project will go a long way toward bringing us together.
“And to the Maritimes, it will be equal to the Statue of Liberty, only it will be more passionate.”
While some critics have dismissed Trigiani’s Mother Canada dream as being over-the-top, unrealistic and unfitting for a national park, others support the project and the core values behind it.
Rosemary LaRusic of Ingonish is a member of a group called the People North of Smokey and Beyond Who Believe in the NFNM Monument. She agrees with Trigiani that those who support the proposal have not given up.
“We’re doing everything possible on our end to keep the flame alive and keep it in people’s minds,” said LaRusic, who added that fellow group member Ray Stapleton recently met with members of the Ingonish legion to talk about the project.
“We know that up here, north of Smokey. that probably 90 per cent of the people are totally in favour of it and that the people that aren’t in favour of it were given so-called facts that were just wrong.”
Meanwhile, Trigiani plans to continue to advocate for the proposed memorial that has consumed much of his time over the past decade. As for the estimated $30-million price tag, he said he’s not concerned and that once the project is approved he does not anticipate there will be any trouble raising the necessary funds.
NEVER FORGOTTEN NATIONAL MEMORIAL
- 2011: Foundation established with the purpose of honouring the estimated 114,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders buried in foreign countries, lost at sea or otherwise lost and presumed dead.
- 2012: Foundation founder, Toronto businessman Tony Trigiani, leads the charge in raising private funds and support for the Green Cove memorial that is to include a giant Mother Canada statue looking out toward Europe.
- 2013: Federal government comes on board and agrees to license a one-hectare tract of land at Green Cove in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
- 2014-2015: People for and against the project wage war of words on whether Green Cove site is proper location for the memorial.
- May 2015: Stantec Consulting completes detailed impact analysis and Parks Canada opens two-week window for public input. Opponents claim time is inappropriate for proper review of 86-page report.
- February 2016: Parks Canada announced that memorial will not be built at Green Cove
- November 2019: Trigiani remains adamant that project will come to fruition at some point