Fern Perkins

Fern Perkins

Afghanistan war memorial plans on full retreat

Pioneer Square is not the right place for a war memorial, says Victoria's heritage committee

Placement of the Afghanistan War Memorial intended for Pioneer Square is being reconsidered after concerns about the park’s heritage as the old burying ground.

When the subject of a war memorial came to council in January, it was unanimously supported.

However, when it was submitted to the heritage advisory committee, it was rejected.

The heritage committee did not support the location because of the park’s history as a cemetery.

It served as the city’s cemetery from 1855 to 1873 and was converted to a park in 1908.

Approximately 1,300 people are buried there, marked by few surviving gravestones.

“Many of the 1,300 people buried and memorialized in Pioneer Square are Métis and First Nations,” said Fern Perkins, a Victoria Métis woman. She is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Charles Ross, a Hudson’s Bay Co. trader who is buried in the park.

Perkins does not want to see their graves disturbed and forgotten through the placement of the war memorial.

“We’re concerned that this just further obliterates the real history of Victoria,” she said, adding that while the Afghanistan War memorial deserves its own place of honour, that place should be somewhere else in the city such as city hall or Bastion Square.

In Pioneer Square, she would like to see the city focus on memorializing the people who are buried there.

Coun. Chris Coleman said an Afghanistan War Memorial in Pioneer Square fits with a previously-made policy.

“Less than two years ago, we accepted a policy document around Pioneer Park, and it said that this is a place that needs to honour its past history as the old burying ground and function as a park. In that, it identified a specific quadrant of the park where military memorials or commemorative pieces would be appropriate.”

Council will have to deliberate the options of where the war memorial belongs. One option brought up is Rockland Avenue, where it intersects with Quarda Street.

Council recently decided to permanently close a portion of Rockland Avenue off from traffic, so this could be a good place for the memorial, said Coleman.

“I’m not fussed with where it goes. I passionately believe that we should have this,” he said.