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Cenotaph placement a 'sorry situation,' former councillor says

Council shares thoughts on moving war memorial

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Walking through Whistler Village, former municipal councillor Tom Thomson likes to assist tourists in finding their way around — always so easy to spot with their maps.

One such group of four — two elderly couples from the Netherlands — once asked him if Whistler had a memorial to Canada's fallen soldiers.

"And they said, 'We would like to see it, because Canada played a great role in the liberation of Holland,'" Thomson recalled.

"So I tried to describe where they could find the cenotaph. I said, 'Well, if you can find the municipal hall, and then behind that there's a fire hall, then out behind that under a tree, you'll see it," he said.

"I was jesting, right? I was laying it on very thick, to the point that we don't spend or pay a lot of attention to our cenotaph other than on the one day. Their jaws dropped when I said it was out in this hidden spot, it may or may not be maintained, and it's not like you, (where you) go out and polish the graves of fallen soldiers with toothbrushes and adorn them with poppies.

"I feel that it's just a sorry situation."

Thomson, the son of a Royal Canadian Air Force veteran, has long been vocal about his desire to see the cenotaph moved from its current location in the parking lot of the fire hall on Village Gate Boulevard, and after walking past the war memorial on a recent winter day, seeing it covered in snow and forgotten at the back of the lot, felt compelled to reach out to Pique to broach the topic again.

Thomson feels somewhere on the edge of Olympic Plaza would be fitting, and large enough to accommodate the ceremony's growing crowds.

"Start the colour party at the fire hall, march them down through the centre of town there until they get to the plaza," he said.

"If it's a rainy day people could be in underneath, with great acoustics because the place is wired for sound, great sightlines depending on how you set it up. It's just a dumb place to have it where it is to me."

When Pique wrote about last year's axed plans to move the cenotaph back in November, Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said she didn't see the need to move it.

In following up, Pique reached out to all six current municipal councillors by email to ask for their thoughts.

Coun. Steve Anderson, whose grandfather and father served in the First and Second World Wars, respectively, said he would also like to see the cenotaph moved.

"It just seems like we're drawing larger crowds as the years go by, and going to the space in front of the fire hall it used to be just fine — it accommodated the crowd — but lately the crowd spills out and goes across the street and they're hanging in planters, and it's kinda tough," Anderson said.

Moving the war memorial isn't a top priority for council, but with Canada's 150th birthday celebrations underway the discussion is timely, Anderson said, and a case could be made for the project with enough public support.

"What I notice with the way things move here, if a bunch of people write in and suggest it then it might make a work schedule, but I couldn't really say in that regard what would become of it," he said.

Coun. John Grills, also the son of a Second World War veteran, said he'd like to look at improving the current site before a wholesale change of location.

"This is a Whistler community recognition of those that have served and are currently serving in our armed forces. Maybe it is meant to be crowded, a little uncomfortable and out in the elements of the day," he said.

"I spoke with a few of the armed forces members who attended this year for their first time. They felt very welcome and commented on how engaging the Whistler service was. More so than many of the other services they had attended over the years."

Coun. Sue Maxwell said she's heard from people both for and against moving it.

"The main purpose of the cenotaph is to show respect to those who fought and fight for us and to remind us of what can happen when hatred, racism and nationalism are allowed to rise, which is very relevant at this time," she said.

"If people are feeling that the present location is not respectful and fulfilling its purpose, I would be open to having a discussion about it."

Coun. Jen Ford said her view is that it's worth looking into other sites.

"I'm usually around the back of the crowd at the Remembrance Day event, and it just gets bigger and further back every year. It's not easy to see who is speaking, or what is happening, so if that could be improved by a new location, that would be great," she said. "The current location has obvious sentimental value, and the benefit of going inside the fire hall for coffee afterwards. But there is interest from many in the community to look at other options, so maybe we should."

Ford wanted to be clear, though, that she loves the ceremony and the work that organizers like Brian Buchholz have put into it over the years.

Coun. Jack Crompton said he didn't have a strong opinion one way or the other, while Coun. Andree Janyk said she had no comment.

Thomson, a former teacher, said moving the cenotaph is about providing year-round education.

"It's great to see the colours come out and our different armed forces representation that comes, and all of the other service people who make our province a much better place to live in, but then we tuck it all away," he said.

"The fire hall has been a part of it, Brian (Buchholz) and the group there. They spiff the place up for the day, that's wonderful — they still could continue that tradition, and it's a great one.

"As an educator, it should be front and centre... you get nothing across with a one-day cram session," he added.

"It's a continuous process, and it's one that I think has earned its place."

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