Whitehorse city council has voted in favour of applying for just under $500,000 in federal funds that would bring much-needed improvements to the Pioneer Cemetery.
But whether or not the city intends on moving the cenotaph as part of that project, from its current location next to city hall to within the cemetery, remains to be seen.
Councillors made the decision on Monday evening to apply for funds through the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program.
The program supports the renovation, expansion and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure such as community centres, parks, museums, trails and docks.
The Pioneer Cemetery and cenotaph relocation project came out on top among a total of six projects presented to council members during a council and senior management meeting on July 14.
Renovations to the cemetery would include new fencing, signs reminding visitors of its history, and repairs to damaged headstones.
The cemetery renovation is estimated at $660,000, with the cenotaph relocation representing a small portion of the costs.
Each project can be covered up to 75 per cent by the federal government, for a maximum of $500,000. Projects must be completed by March 31, 2018.
Michael Janssen-Breidahl spoke to members of council on Monday evening about the potential impact of moving the cenotaph, which he fears will be forgotten and vandalized because of its new location.
“If we can’t see it every day like we do now, will it still be relevant?” he asked council.
“I think not. If the cenotaph is stuffed away to a back corner of the city, will Remembrance Day and the verse ‘We will never forget them’ just be lip service to a cliche that we go through to get a day off before Christmas?”
Much has been said about the deteriorating condition of the cemetery over the years. Veterans have complained about headstones being knocked over, tombstones in dire need of cleaning and people treating the area like a dog park.
Part of Janssen-Breidahl’s argument to keep the cenotaph in its current location is the monument’s connection to city hall, and what that symbolizes.
He argued that Second Avenue could be closed down during Remembrance Day ceremonies, much like it is for the Canada Day parade on July 1.
After hearing Janssen-Breidahl’s impassioned plea, Councillor Dave Stockdale motioned to defer the funding vote so that members of council could discuss the issue further.
Coun. John Streicker reminded his peers that the clock was ticking for applications because Nunavut and the Northwest Territories have already submitted their proposals for a piece of the $6.4 million that has been made available to the territories.
Stockdale’s motion was defeated.
Streicker added that applying for the funds still gave the city time to debate the potential move of the cenotaph to the cemetery.
Before the end of the meeting, council members also voted to slightly change the wording to the recommendation itself, giving themselves the opportunity to apply for other projects through the Canada 150 fund if they chose to.
Council meetings will resume on Monday, Aug. 24.
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