Planned new war memorial delayed by Ken Whillans Square revitalization
Henry Verschuren was at last Sunday’s Remembrance Day ceremony, sword in hand, in Ken Whillans Square. His duties as parade commander of the Royal Canadian Legion’s Branch 15 require a stoic composure, even when he begins to feel the day’s chill in his bones, along with the emotions evoked by the ceremony.
Verschuren recalled later that he kept repeating one name in his head during the commemoration, that of his friend and fellow Bramptonian, Master Cpl. Mark MacRae, who died in 1986 while serving as a UN peacekeeper in Cyprus.
“I’m standing in the middle of the parade square, elevated, and the parade behind me. What was going through my mind was: Don’t start crying now,” Verschuren said, clearly holding back tears even later.
The struggle to stay poised was especially difficult as he watched MacRae’s mother, Mary Prim MacRae, lay a wreath with her son’s name emblazoned on it at the foot of the cenotaph.
Verschuren — who also served as pipe major of the Lorne Scots’ regimental band, which has a company in Brampton — hopes to make his friend’s name, as well as the names of 163 other Bramptonians who have died fighting Canada’s wars, a more permanent fixture in the city’s downtown.
Last February, he sought Brampton City Council's support to erect a new memorial wall as a companion piece to the cenotaph. Designs for the proposed monument are still in their infancy, but what is certain is the two features it must have: a location in the grassy area immediately to the west of the cenotaph, and all the names of Brampton’s glorious dead.
“People stopped me in the hallway to tell me that’s the first time they’ve seen this council vote unanimously on anything,” he said, chuckling.
Verschuren was hoping that, once the ball was rolling, the memorial would be unveiled in time for the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, which was last Sunday. However, a parallel project has temporarily halted progress on the memorial.
Ken Whillans Square is slated to be renovated as part of Downtown Reimagined, the City of Brampton’s initiative to revitalize the Four Corners area of downtown and surrounding areas. According to conceptual renderings, the project includes lane reductions on Main Street, as well as cobblestoning the street to clearly demarcate areas for car traffic and bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks, and plenty of trees. The city has put a pause on the memorial while it figures out what the construction plan for the square is.
“Staff have worked with the Legion to provide an interim memorial in our City Hall Atrium. The permanent solution in Ken Whillans Square will form part of a future project in connection with the Downtown Revitalization project,” Natalie Stogdill, a spokesperson for the city, told The Pointer.
Verschuren does not blame the city for taking this step, saying it’s a rational way to do it. He wants to do the project right the first time and sees no point in erecting a memorial wall only to have it torn up again. “It wasn’t unreasonable, what they were asking.”
However, he acknowledged that “there was a little bit of disappointment there.”
The memorial wall has since been incorporated into the larger plan for the square, and Verschuren has been advising the city’s public works and parks and recreation departments on how to proceed.
“It’s kind of pleasing, actually, because from a historical perspective, when Ken Whillans Square was first built, my father (Henry Verschuren Sr.) was on the committee (that built it, and now I am (for the memorial).
“He was director of parks of the City of Brampton at the time.”
A delegation to city council in February by the Royal Canadian Legion, led by the parade commander, presented ideas about what they wanted the wall to look like. They proposed that the structure be four feet high, 10 to 12 feet long and 2.5 feet wide.
A conceptual drawing shows a generally rectangular shape, with a tiered roof on top. The idea is to make the wall out of a material resembling the current cenotaph as closely as possible and for both memorials to have similar decorations, such as laurels and maple leaves. The names of Brampton’s fallen will probably be written on both sides of the memorial wall.
The new monument is expected to come with a price tag of about $55,000. That breaks down to roughly $15,000 for materials and $40,000 for the construction.
Details of the project are not yet set in stone. Verschuren was intrigued by some of the designs proposed by the architectural firm involved. “The architects, when we did meet with them, came up with a couple of alternatives that I thought were very interesting,” Verschuren said.
“There was some talk of doing pillars around the square with the names on them, so that as people walk through the square, they’ll be running into these pillars every two or three feet.”
The Royal Canadian Legion is currently in a holding pattern until January, when the various committees working on the square will gather to discuss the next steps.
“Once the visioning and scale of work details are confirmed, a report will go to council,” said Stogdill.
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