- In early 2017, the Stouffville Horticultural Society & Garden Club approached the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville with the goal of creating a garden in Memorial Park celebrating the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation.
- The Town accepted their proposal and proceeded to construct the Canada 150 Garden (the Garden) on the berm at the corner of Park and Booth Drives. The volunteer group took responsibility for planting what is there today and has managed the site ever since.
- However, during Council’s meeting on December 6, 2023, a decision was made to remove the Garden and install a new memorial site in its place.
- Their decision followed a September delegation from the Stouffville Legion, which requested the relocation of Stouffville’s cenotaph to Memorial Park along with accepting the donation of a decommissioned Leopard tank from the Department of National Defence.
- “At no time was anyone at the Stouffville Horticultural Society contacted or notified that the Canada 150 Garden was one of the sites under consideration” for the project, the group told Council in a recent letter. The supporting Staff report informing Council’s decision also failed to mention the group and their involvement with the Garden.
- “The lack of transparency around this decision is troubling, to say the least, when you consider all the volunteer hours invested,” noted Debbie Lonergan of the Horticultural Society. “Why must an existing commemorative site be destroyed to accommodate a different one?”
- Bullet Point News joined Lonergan and other members of the group at the Garden last week to discuss the history of the project and hear more about their concerns.
- Since 2019, the group has tallied an average of 322 volunteer hours worked on the Garden each year, resulting in an estimated 2,000 total man-hours since its installation.
- The Horticultural Society has also spent over $1,000 on plants and other supplies since 2019, a figure not inclusive of 2017-2018 expenses, donated plants, personal expenditures by individual volunteers, and an initial Provincial grant.
- The Town has expressed a willingness to involve the Horticultural Society in future garden works at the new memorial site or possibly look to identify a different location for a new garden. The group is currently deciding whether or not they wish to continue their involvement in the park.
The lack of public inclusion in the lead-up to Council’s decision extended beyond the Horticultural Society, as no public consultation was conducted over the proposal. The Town operates cometogetherws.ca, a website specifically designed to inform and consult the public on plans and projects, big and small. While the Memorial Park Master Plan process resulted in discussions over relocating the cenotaph and a possible war memorial for the area, the tank installation was never posted or publicized by the Town outside of Council activity.
“I only heard about the tank proposal at Sue Sherban’s Town Hall at the end of October,” local resident Christine Hart told us. “I’m certain a cenotaph in the park would be a fitting addition. I fail, however, to understand how a tank honours our brave men and women who have fought in battle. A tank glorifies war and sends a different message entirely. I firmly believe that Memorial Park is not the appropriate place.” She submitted correspondence to Council expressing her views.
Hart is not alone in her position. Following Council’s approval, much of the commentary on social media has been similar. While most support the moving of Stouffville’s cenotaph to Memorial Park, there has been an abundance of highly critical views posted regarding the inclusion of a tank within the future memorial site.
Bullet Point News reached out to Mayor Iain Lovatt and asked why no consultation was done. “The public first had the opportunity to hear about moving the cenotaph and the opportunity for a tank during the Legion’s delegation at the September 13, 2023, Council meeting. We then directed staff to bring a report back,” Lovatt replied. That report, including the recommendation to accept the tank and install it and the cenotaph at the Garden location, was then included on the December 6, 2023, Council agenda.
“The agenda was widely publicized and published on all of the Town’s and most of Council’s social media accounts, as well as the popular Stouffville Bulletin Facebook group, which gives the public lots of opportunity to read what’s on the agenda,” Lovatt added. However, he did not clarify why consultation was not conducted beyond Council’s published agenda and meeting—which have a history of lacking public involvement. Lovatt noted minimal correspondence was received prior to their December 6 meeting, saying “most correspondence came in after the decision, which is too late.”
A delegation to Council asking them to consider the installation of a disc golf course resulted in course approvals earlier this year. The Staff-preferred location for the course in the Ken Laushway woodlot saw immediate condemnation from the local community, resulting in an extensive consultation process and eventual change of the recommended location to Greenwood Park. Such reconsideration of the tank installation and site selection does not appear to be on the table.
During the Legion’s September delegation, past president Murray Pattenden noted that installations such as the Leopard tank “are not there as a show of force but as a symbol of what [service members] have endured.” That viewpoint has been echoed by supportive members of the community through social media posts, as well.
Pattenden’s presentation focused on the history of Memorial Park and its role in commemorating Whitchurch-Stouffville residents who served in fields of battle. He requested Council consider the park site located north of Burkholder Street and south of the Stouffville Lawn Bowling Club, which was part of the original Memorial Park before its expansion. Staff and Council, however, decided against that request.
“Staff were directed to identify a location in the park that offered a combination of visibility, no interference with day-to-day and festival activities, addresses future growth opportunities, and considers the safety of patrons,” Town spokesperson Glenn Jackson detailed in a response to Bullet Point News. This resulted in Staff recommending the Garden site over the usage of the original Memorial Park lands.
Stouffville seems set to move forward with the project as approved. “The Town is grateful for the donation of the tank from the Department of National Defence and sees this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to recognize our veterans in Memorial Park,” Jackson stated. Planning of the project will continue through 2024 with the hope of utilizing the newly constructed memorial site for Remembrance Day services next year.
For more information about the Horticultural Society, their Canada 150 Garden, and images showcasing their work, you can visit their website.
Stouffville Horticultural Society members pictured above, from left to right: Scott Heaslip, Donna Di Costanzo, Margaret Grant, Debbie Lonergan, and Scott Lonergan