Ncc board approves new site for Memorial to the Victims of Communism

Thursday, April 28, 2016

OTTAWA CITIZEN, By Don Butler

The National Capital Commission‘s board has signed off on a new site for the proposed Memorial to the Victims of Communism. But the NCC will have to relocate an existing piece of public art to accommodate it.

The board voted unanimously Thursday to approve a site on the western edge of parkland adjacent to the Garden of the Provinces and Territories for the memorial.

But before the memorial can be built, the board will have to give two more approvals: one for site-specific urban design guidelines, and another for the final design itself, once it has been chosen by a jury following a new national design competition.

The previous Conservative government wanted to build the memorial on a 5,000-square-metre site near the Supreme Court of Canada, much to the dismay of planning advocates and municipal politicians. The land had previously been earmarked for a new federal court building.

The project was put on hold through the fall election and, after the Liberals won a majority government, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly announced that a smaller, less expensive version of the memorial would be built at the Garden of the Provinces site.

The Liberals reduced the project budget to $3 million from $5.5 million, with half funded by the public and the rest to be raised by the non-profit group Tribute to Liberty, the project’s sponsor. Ludwik Klimkowski, Tribute to Liberty’s chair, said last week the organization has raised $1.1 million in cash – $1.4 million including pledges tied to the actual construction.

Shifting the memorial to its new site will require the “sensitive and appropriate” relocation of a 3,175-kilogram red cedar modernist sculpture, called Twelve Points in a Classical Balance, created in the early 1980s by Vancouver artist Hung Chung, said NCC planning director Stephen Willis.

Willis said it would be “too cluttered” to have both the victims of communism memorial and Chung’s sculpture on the same site. He said the NCC has several good options for relocating the sculpture.

In addition, NCC staff said the chosen site is potentially contaminated. The cost of the cleanup will be determined by the new memorial’s size and exact location. 

Given the controversy that surrounded the original plan for the memorial, there was surprisingly little debate about the new location.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, attending his first meeting of the NCC board as an ex-officio member, asked whether the approval should be contingent on Tribute to Liberty raising its share of the funds, but was assured that the memorial would only proceed if that happened.

Board member Michael Pankiw noted that more than 40 per cent of those who responded to a Canadian Heritage questionnaire about the memorial expressed concerns about it. “The aspirations of the proponents may not be aligned with the aspirations of the public,” he said.

The NCC originally approved a similar site near the Garden of the Provinces for the memorial in 2011, but it was shifted to the contested location near the Supreme Court by the federal government in 2013.

That prompted NCC board chair Russ Mills to joke after the vote that he was getting “a very powerful feeling of déjà vu, because we did this five years ago.”

The government hopes to have the memorial built by 2018.