A local memorial to Canadian soldiers is being dismantled, angering its volunteer creators as the conservation authority that owns the land plans to replace its 120 crosses with something smaller.
Peacekeeper Park is a memorial site in Belmont, southeast of London, established in 2002 – but officials with the Kettle Creek Conservation Authority voted this week to replace it all with a "one-time expense low-maintenance option," possibly a commemorative rock.
“The fact that that entire path (of crosses) could possibly be replaced with a rock is a struggle for us," said Katie Bast, vice-president of the Peacekeeper Park's board of directors. The change, she said, "makes sense, financially, but I don’t know if it makes sense morally.
“What’s important is that each cross was put in the ground with the understanding that it was to commemorate . . . a Canadian soldier that gave their life for the service of peace."
Wednesday night, Kettle Creek board officials debated four options: Keep the path as is; broker a deal where they'd cover grass-cutting and the park's board would pay for additional costs; replace the crosses on the path; or remove it altogether.
After a lengthy discussion, the board voted 6-3 in favour of the third option, noting it would "represent less maintenance and financial resources for both parties.”
Those who voted for the change are Dennis Crevits, Dominique Giguere, Bill Mackie, Elizabeth Peloza, Alison Warwick and Grant Jones. Stephen Harvey, Jim Hebert and Steve Peters voted against the motion.
It's unclear what the replacement will be. But the Kettle Creek board was shown an example of a cheaper option – an engraved rock.
A request for comment from the Kettle Creek board chair, Grant Jones, was declined through a spokesperson.
Peacekeeper Park officials have been looking for a new home since last year, when the Kettle Creek board voted not to renew their lease on land at Whittaker Lake, where the memorial and a training centre for cadets have been in place for two decades.
The park has also offered summer programs for young people, including a camp for youth with disabilities.
“We’ve had over 20,000 youth go through that park in 20 years,” said Sarah Duplisea, the park’s executive assistant.
“That’s what’s unique about Peacekeeper Park is that we run on volunteer hours. They get the job skills and the life skills to grow and become citizens of Canada.”
Peacekeeper Park officials can keep using the Kettle Creek land until year's end. Another meeting between park officials and board members is scheduled for Thursday.
Kettle Creek Conservation Authority oversees a watershed that extends through seven local municipalities: London, St. Thomas, Malahide, Central Elgin, Southwold, Middlesex Centre and Thames Centre.
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press