Good ideas are a dime-a-dozen; it’s the execution that counts. The proposed installation of a monument honouring Irish Canadians in Vancouver’s Thorton Park is a case-in-point: Good idea. Lousy execution.
You see, the three-and-a-half acre park is currently home to another monument: The Marker of Change. Erected in 1997, it commemorates the murder of 14 female engineering students at L’École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989. The installation is subtle and elegant. It is a 300-foot circle framed by 14 sarcophagi made of Laurentian pink granite, each one silently revealing the women’s fate. It is beautiful. It is mournful. And it is immensely popular among addicts who lounge on the vulva-shaped lids of the sarcophagi to smoke crack.
And now– Mother Mary!—the Irish are coming.
The Vancouver Park Board has approved a new monument honouring the Irish to be built alongside Marker of Change. As a bracing counterpoint to the sorrowful sarcophagi that fill up regularly with rain and crack dust, there’s going to be a 10-foot high obelisk adorned with a Celtic cross a mere 80-feet away.
In response to the public outcry over the proposed addition to the park, Brendan Flynn, the executive director of the Ireland Canada Monument Society, has suggested that the increase in foot traffic of having a second monument in the park will help “bring attention” to women’s causes. He has also agreed to reduce the obelisk to 6-feet and to include more women among those honoured.
But these are mere distractions. When the Marker of Change was installed, the Vancouver Park Board said it would be the only monument in the park. They have reneged on that promise. The Irish obelisk was originally destined for another park, John Hendry Park at Trout Lake, but it seems that plans for an ice-skating rink and other Olympic hoo-haa has put the kibosh on that location putting the Irish obelisk in play.
Some commenters have tried to explain the intrusion by saying that if the Marker of Change had been an obelisk—a towering phallic symbol—instead of low-key circle, then a second monument would not have been proposed. Maybe. Maybe not.
Nothing against the Irish, who contributed mightily to building this country and gave us lots of convivial pubs to boot, but, really, can’t Vancouver find another spot for it? There are, like, a thousand parks in the city and I’m sure the now humbled obelisk could find a happy home in any one of them. Just not this one.
To honour the women’s lives— and their early loss—let’s give them the space they deserve. Their lives fell under a heavy shadow. Their deaths shouldn’t be eclipsed as well.
Above: Artist’s rendering of proposed monument. Inset: One of the markers from Marker of Change. Image credits: Vancouver Park Board/ sillygwailo (Flickr)