OTTAWA – She strikes a mournful, solitary pose on the crest of a French ridge once soaked in Canadian blood — an image one prominent former soldier says should be a daily reminder to parliamentarians that their decisions have consequences.
Sen. Romeo Dallaire has been quietly lobbying the federal government to construct a replica of the monument known as Mother Canada, located on the eastern side of the Vimy Ridge memorial perched atop the famous battlefield in France.
Dallaire wants to see the new statue erected in Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau, Que., directly across the river from Parliament Hill and within sight of the offices of MPs and senators who would decide where and when to deploy troops in the future.
It’s the sort of sober reflection the country needs in an age of hyper-partisan politics and emerging global crises, he said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.
“As a nation, we will be called beyond our borders again,” Dallaire said.
“I expect that, and I think it’s part of our responsibility, and so we should make people aware that when you take that decision you realize you are going to take casualties — both in people who are killed (and) in a hell of a lot of people who are injured.”
The idea started out as a way to commemorate both the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the country’s 150th birthday, both of which take place in 2017.
Wednesday marked the 97th anniversary of the battle, which claimed 3,598 Canadian lives.
Dallaire, who was instrumental in pushing for the addition of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the foot of the National War Memorial in Ottawa, said a Mother Canada statue would speak to families in a way that the current memorials don’t.
“We’re in an era now when you deploy the troops, you’re deploying the families,” he said.
“Because of the media, they’re living the missions in ways past generations haven’t and there is no monument here that really projects how the people of Canada — the ones left behind — their sense of the price we have paid.”
Dallaire’s proposal has won the enthusiastic endorsement of National Defence and retired general Walt Natyncyk, the former chief of defence staff, who recommended the department lend its full support to whichever government department or agency is best suited to take the lead.
“The memorial at Vimy Ridge is an important reminder of the tremendous sacrifices made by Canadians when our country came of age,” Natynczyk wrote in a 2011 letter to then-defence minister Peter MacKay.
“The mourning figure of ‘Mother Canada’ would be a fitting reminder to all of Canada of the sacrifices that her sons and daughters have made, are making, and will continue to make in the future.”
The letter was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
Despite such high-calibre support, the Harper government has so far remained silent on whether it would consider adding the idea to its laundry list of planned First World War projects and commemorations.
It has shown interest in Toronto businessman Tony Trigiano’s Never Forgotten National Memorial, a giant monument similar to the one in Vimy, but constructed on a patch of Cape Breton coastline, arms outstretched towards the sea.
The idea has been met with mixed reviews in Nova Scotia. Former veterans minister Steven Blaney spoke to Dallaire about Trigiano’s plans, but Dallaire wants the monument in the more accessible national capital region.
Dallaire has also faced questions about why his monument should be located on the Quebec side of the river, given the province’s reputation for opposing Canada’s past military activity and conscription measures.
“That’s exactly why you want to put it on the Quebec side; so that we sort out” and reconcile with that history, he said.
The federal government needn’t foot the entire bill for the project, said Dallaire; rather, military regimental associations across the country as could be mobilized to support the project, along with other private organizations.
Even the marble for the statue could be found among an existing stockpile that the federal government keeps in reserve for repairs to the monument in France, he added.