Sackville postpones installing military vehicle in Memorial Park after residents voice opposition

Cougar armoured vehicles maneuvre in a field during a military exercise in Alberta. Cougars, which were equipped with a 76mm gun and a 7.62mm machine gun, were in service from 1976 until 2005

Mayor John Higham has directed town staff to postpone installing an armoured military vehicle known as a Cougar in Sackville’s Memorial Park until town council hears from people who are speaking up against the installation.

Higham says most councillors agreed to the postponement until they hear any new information the opponents may present at town council’s next meeting on July 2nd.

“Although I’m not a jaded politician, I know every topic has multiple views,” the mayor said during a telephone interview. “It’s always a question of, have we heard everybody yet and if we haven’t, what have we missed?” he added.

“We’re seeing some very strongly held opinions on both sides of this equation, which is a little bit unusual, but not to be unexpected when it deals with remembering people who passed away in the armed forces in our service,” Higham said.

Legion will be heard too

Mayor John Higham

The mayor mentioned that the Sackville Legion will also make a presentation to council on July 2nd.

Council agreed to accept the Cougar in February after defeating a motion by Councillor Shawn Mesheau to postpone the decision for a month pending consultation with the Legion.

Mayor Higham says that when he and town staff met separately with two senior executives of the Legion soon after the decision in February, the executives were quite happy to have the Cougar installed in the park as a memorial to soldiers who died in the Second World War and as a symbol of Sackville’s once close relationship with the 8th Canadian Hussars, a reserve armoured regiment.

The Hussars C Squadron and its regimental band were based in Sackville until 1997.

Cougar’s the wrong symbol

Sackville resident Alex Thomas, who helped organize a protest against installing the Cougar in Memorial Park (see CBC coverage here) says he’s very much in favour of commemorating the contributions of the 8th Hussars in the Second World War.

“We don’t feel that this modern machine of warfare adequately and accurately memorializes those men who served,” Thomas says. “It actually serves to glorify war rather than to reflect and honour those who served.”

Cenotaph in Sackville’s Memorial Park honours war dead. Opponents to the Cougar call the cenotaph a more fitting memorial to the fallen

Thomas explains that the 55 Hussars who died in Italy and the eight who died in other parts of Western Europe during the Second World War did not use Cougars, so it’s the wrong memorial for that era.

Thomas points out that the most recent use of this armoured vehicle was during the Oka crisis of 1990. He adds that a lot of Canadians look back on that use with shame.

“I think there’s a lot of human rights violations that have been identified coming out of the Oka crisis and in this age of reconciliation, I really think we need to be careful that we’re not putting symbols of indigenous oppression on pedestals in our parks,” Thomas says.

‘Wrong message’

Peter Higham, whose house on Squire Street is adjacent to Memorial Park, says installing a gigantic Cougar war machine sends the wrong message.

“It’s too close to the glorification of war rather than remembering and being aware of the futility of war,” he says, adding that exhibits in the park already represent the various branches of the armed services.

Peter Higham standing next to the Vimy oak sapling that would be dwarfed by the Cougar

Higham points out that the Cougar is nearly four times the size of the armoured vehicle, known as a Ferret, that the Hussars donated in 1994.

He argues that the cenotaph, not machines that belong in a war museum, should be the focal point of the park.

Higham also notes that plans originally called for the Cougar to be placed beside a Vimy Ridge oak sapling that the Sackville Rotary Club planted in 2017.

“The sapling represents a kind of rebuilding, a regeneration rather than the negative aspects that are associated with these vehicles,” he says.

“I also consider that putting yet another war machine in the park is sending out the wrong message to any visitors to the town,” he adds, “and I think it could be taken very negatively by First Nations as well.”

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15 Responses to Sackville postpones installing military vehicle in Memorial Park after residents voice opposition

  1. Louis says:

    So many smug people in this town that it’s sickening.
    All I can say to them is that I’m thankful that at least their grandparents weren’t as odd-minded, else we’d be making Nazi salutes… or dead.

    Then again, I shouldn’t be surprised. First the Memorial Library, then Rememberance Day.
    It’s a fairly logical progression.

    I’m sad to say that this crowd seems to be winning the long battle. This will not be a nice town/province/country once they’re done. Most people will realize this only once it’s too late.

  2. Christian Corbet says:

    Perhaps Alex Thomas’ energy and efforts might best be placed in signing up with Canada’s Peacekeeping mission and learn too that women also serve in the Canadian Forces. The Mayor might also learn that soldiers don’t just “pass away” as they are often killed in the line of duty.

    • whitehotlovetiger says:

      “…he’s very much in favour of commemorating the contributions of the 8th Hussars in the Second World War. ‘We don’t feel that this modern machine of warfare adequately and accurately memorializes those men who served,’ Thomas says”
      I think he’s referring to the men who served with the 8th Hussars in WWII, not the men & women who may have served with the Cougars in the 8th Hussars from ’89 – ’05. (Women were only generally allowed into the combat arms in ’89)

  3. Harold says:

    Let me suggest that the Cougar, as well as the Ferret, be painted UN white with UN lettering on top and sides, and the blue UN symbol on the back. Both were used on UN operations. They were used in the service of peace and this should be worth remembering.

  4. G says:

    And to think my father fought in the second world war to protect this country and the people of Sackville. And to have [epithet deleted] like Thomas and P Highman disrespect these men by shooting their mouths off in a negative way. Like the man says if you dont like Sackville leave.

  5. Rima Azar says:

    I do not understand my fellow citizens at all, the ones mentioned in this story. I suspect they are NOT the majority, even if they are too vocal.

    Today, I read Jessica Grue’s (the same lady cited in the CBC article linked to this one) twitter referencing this issue and claiming to have received threats from members of the Canadian Armed Forces. I wish she would call the police.

    I am also told that some people no longer wish to sing “Oh Canada” in our town ☹. Can you imagine? How strange. How sad.

    Similarly, I heard that some citizens of our town (and beyond) think that Remembrance Day is evil because it glorifies violence. In my opinion, they simply forgot that it is about the armistice, which is the end of war.

    Ironically, we had a wonderful guest from the Netherlands in Sackville years ago (she was 16 years old at the time). She honoured our Canadian Armed Forces better than my own fellow citizens cited in this article. On November 11th, 2014, at the Remembrance service at Mount Allison University, she thanked Canada with a symbolic yet powerful gift for helping liberate her country during war. I was moved when I saw this gesture.

    In contrast to her grateful attitude, we now have a couple of Sackville citizens who are against this gift from our Canadian army to the town. They are vocal about it, even if our Town Councillors have already voted to accept the gift. Sadly, they are vocal to the point of attracting the attention of the mainstream media, which jumps on every opportunity for collective self-flagellation. As Canadians, did we collectively loose all self-respect and self-love to that point?

    You can guess that such level of cynicism is disturbing to the old immigrant in me—the one who has adopted and was adopted by Canada 29 years ago.

    I know violence too well. I grew up in the Lebanese civil war. It has influenced my way of being and likely my career choice (there is a reason I am fascinated by stress…). I dislike violence with passion… and yet I neither understand nor endorse my fellow Sackville citizens’ reaction. Since when does saying that we remember mean that we endorse violence?

    This vehicle, or others like it, has likely served in peace missions. Didn’t we think about that? Indeed, Canada has assisted SO many countries struggling with violence, including my country of birth. Ironically, WE HONOUR THE CANADIAN ARMED FORCES in Lebanon, ALONG WITH ALL THE PEACEKEEPERS from around the world, protecting the country’s south border. These men and women risk their lives every day and night whilst being so far away from their own country and loved ones.

    Even if this particular vehicle has served in the Oka crisis, perhaps those who object would like to consider what the outcome would have been without the intervention of our disciplined army.

    In Lebanon, August 1st is the day of the Lebanese Army. All the country, in all its factions come together on this national day off to thank and celebrate the Lebanese army. The latter is the symbol of unity, courage, and ultimate love—this patriotic love that is disappearing in Canada in front of our eyes day after day…

    So perhaps we need a little “patriotic” lesson from this Lebanon, a tiny old country that has survived many occupations over thousands of years. In that country, people greet Lebanese soldiers whom they meet with the word “Watan”. This word means nation (or country) in Arabic. It speaks volume about how the soldier is perceived by ALL as representing the nation.

    If the soldier or his/her vehicle are no longer welcomed in a small town like ours with many veterans, our beloved Canadian “watan” is truly going down the hill day after day… I am seriously worried, in addition to feeling sad about all this ☹.

  6. Kelly Alder says:

    Well said so far by all comments. I too worry about the fact that so few making a fuss is even being considered by the town well after this decision was made to accept and place this item in the memorial park. I trust that as many people I’ve spoken to and seen posting on various forms of social media will pack the town hall on the night of this upcoming council meeting. Time to stand up for what’s right and take part of our town back.

  7. Sharon Hicks says:

    It’s truly amazing how many Sackville citizens are now expressing their varying views on this issue, especially since this matter was already discussed and voted on by our Town Council over four months ago.

    At this point, whether one agrees or disagrees with the decision reached on February 11, the fact is the decision was made and approved by the majority of Council. Due process therefore dictates that this issue is now a ‘done deal’.

    I encourage readers to please check back to the story which Bruce Wark posted about this issue back in February, the link to which he included in the above article. There you can review the details of that meeting.

    At that February 11 meeting, Councillors Shawn Mesheau and Bruce Phinney attempted to delay the vote until the following month, to allow proper time for consultation with the public and the Legion, but after CAO Phil Handrahan mentioned that other localities might also be interested in acquiring the Cougar, it was decided to rush the vote through that night.

    So there was no proper opportunity for public input, and the Legion was not approached until “soon after the decision”, according to Mayor John Higham’s statement today to journalist Bruce Wark.

    Looking back, it appears this is another example of the manner in which so many issues over the past three years have been rushed through the voting process with an appalling lack of public consultation. Those of us who attend Town Council meetings on a regular basis see this becoming a progressively more frequent trend.

    Kudos to Councillors Mesheau and Phinney in their efforts to ensure due diligence was pursued, even though their attempt was unsuccessful. Hopefully in the future their voices will help stem this escalating trend.

  8. Aline acaf says:

    My first time to post a comment

    Is Canada a country or a camp?
    Do people have or feel patriotism. If not there is a big problem.
    We should be proud of our army, they are our protectors. Lucky because we were never in war here, but imagine a country with no army !! A disaster in case of an attack happens. Us as immigrant we feel safe when we feel their presence, not threatens like the lady said watching the tank from her backyard.
    The army carry the honour of a country. We should be proud of them , honoured by their gifts, not the opposite

    • Azi says:

      I am an immigrant (now a proud Canadian citizen) whose childhood was kind of ruined by 8 years of war, who has lost her home by a bomb, who has seen and understood a revolution. I have to say that any army related instrument, even used for protecting peace after a war, doesn’t look like a happy object to me. I am proud that Canada was involved in peacekeeping but the object itself reminds me that someone else was involved in a war that killed people and ruined cities and it reminds me of all bad memories I do have from a war and a revolution. I cannot help just does.
      We should respect each others feelings. We cannot make people enjoy seeing what they don’t. It is feeling, and it is personal experiences. In my view, this has nothing to do with being proud of our army. After all, it is people in the army that we are proud of not those machines.
      I also feel having so many of these machines in one place will make that space look like back yard of mechanical shops. It is just too many in such a small space (just from the aesthetic point of view).

      • Rima Azar says:

        I read with great interest Aline Acaf’s sharp/moving comment and now Azi’s very interesting point. Thanks to these ladies who sadly also have first-hand experience of war. You make a point Azi and I can also see that too many of anything, including this object, in a small place becomes not aesthetic.

        This being said, I believe the real issue here is not about trauma or beauty. I will try to explain in the last two paragraphs.

        First, I will say that objects do not have to be military in nature to bring sad memories or even flash-backs. For example, the other day on my way back from work I saw the RMCP stopping cars near our street (I suspect as a campaign against drinking or driving). I was in the other direction. For a second, I imagined them to be a sudden check-point. I had to tell myself: Rima, this is Sweet Little Sackville, not a war zone. Another example was an ambulance I bumped into on the morning of this same day in the downtown. Drivers parked aside (I did the same) to allow the ambulance to reach the hospital fast. In a half-second, my brain recalled a scene from my adolescence where heavily armed militia folks prevented an ambulance with injured people from reaching the nearby hospital. I was standing up at the entrance of the hospital, awaiting injured people (as a volunteer). I started yelling at them to force them to stop the nasty behaviour. Luckily, a second ends fast. Sackville downtown was much nicer than this memory :).

        Second, according to me, the real issue here is about disrespect of a civilization’s symbols, monuments, and history. It is also about imposing a certain radical view on a silent majority (after a decision was made on top of that, even it was made in a rushed way and two Councillors tried to do something about it). Where were these people in February? Sleeping? Where were they when other pressing issues were going on in our town (Louis’ legal battle with the town, etc.)? One would have thought that their “social justice” compass would have been functioning then too.

        Last but not least, Sackville may be a small town…but it is a living example of what is taking place not only in our country but also in the Western world (e.g., Commonwealth countries). We are losing our bearings, as a civilization… What is the next cause they will come up with? I am curious.

  9. brucewark says:

    This is a comment sent by e-mail by Ross Thomas who had problems logging into the Warktimes site to send the comment himself. So, I am posting it on his behalf.

    Bruce, Thank you for your thorough and objective reporting. I have a few comments about the Memorial Park controversy.

    I firstly acknowledge my “prejudices”: I live a block from the park and pass through or sit in it most weeks. It is an oasis of nature centrepieced by the cenotaph. I am related to one Alex Thomas who despite online comments to the contrary is one of the finest young men I know. My grandfather was gassed in world war one and spent much of his life in his arm chair avoiding human contact and refused to talk about his experiences. His wife, my Granny’s favourite brother was killed at 19 years of age in the early days of that same war. As a physician I have tried to treat clients’ emotional trauma incurred in the line of duty. And I prefer consensus to conflict.

    This issue has become very divisive. It would be useful to step back and see what we all have in common.

    Firstly I think we can agree that war is awful. Sometimes necessary, but awful nonetheless. It would seem sensible to avoid it when reasonable.

    Secondly, everyone in this debate is in agreement with honouring those who have suffered for this country, who have put their lives on the line so we can live freely. Despite comments from critics to the contrary, at no time have I heard anyone from the “no machine lobby” not express their wish to honour those who served. That is the raison d’être for the creation and existence of Memorial Park and I think we are all in agreement with that.

    The disagreement and accompanying passion seems to arise from how we best do that and who gets to decide.

    It seems to me reasonable that people who live beside and use the park regularly have some input, as should a veterans association, the legion and the Town administration. (At one point in time I think there was a committee with such membership which has fizzled due to apathy, disinterest and lack of conflict.) Perhaps we could even agree on this.

    So all that remains for everyone to be happy, is to decide how best to memorialize the fallen service folk. The folks in this neighbourhood feel that this function is not best served by creating a museum for defunct military hardware, that this detracts from the humanity and suffering of those whose names re read on the cenotaph and those who returned from conflict alive but often broken. I think such hardware sends the message that with enough gear we can win wars without suffering or loss. This is naive. War is suffering and loss.

    What I personally yearn for is to know more about these people. Who were they? What were their lives like. How were their family members affected.etc etc. The evocative banners displayed about town during remembrance season last fall were a moving reminder of these lives. Can we not strive for something similarly human and simple?

    I don’t expect agreement on this, but I do expect that the principles of freedom of expression and self government which these soldiers died for is respected, and it would nice if we could all be a little more respectful of each other, yes, a little more Canadian.

    • Rima Azar says:

      Thank you, Dr. Ross Thomas, for sharing your moving family stories from World War I and your insights about your clinical experiences with your patients. Your constructive ideas about this story are appreciated too.

      Like you, I also was moved by our town’s “evocative banners displayed about town during remembrance season last fall”. I agree that it is a simple yet great tribute.

      You ended your comment with the following wise words: “it would nice if we could all be a little more respectful of each other, yes, a little more Canadian”.

      Well said… I just hope we will also learn to be a little more Quebecer 😊, in addition to being Canadian. In other terms, it is my hope that our town’s governance will have the courage to govern (as the Government of Québec did recently).

      Our town already decided to accept the Canadian Armed Forces’ gift (after a positive vote by the majority of the Town’s Councillors). If the Town of Sackville ends up reversing its own decision (under belated pressure by a few citizens), it would be “spineless”, according to me.

  10. Alex has some great thinks.. I like that young man.. I especially liked his overpass idea too .. so could we just focus on building something constructive like a fantastic concrete skatepark at 506 and put the damned war machine there if you want to… I don’t really have a problem with machinery on display .. children love to climb on these things .. part of our Western Civilization .. we dominate .. we can’t erase that truth.. also, could anyone be so kind as to advise are Peter and John Higham brothers?cousins? what? Keep me in the loop – facebook has locked me out – what a shocker folks. haha.. Harold with his UN plans there — that’s rich Harold…

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