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
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.”
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.
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.
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.”