Archive for March, 2015

Will our neighbourhood soon become ‘valour district’?

Plans are afoot to label part of our neighbourhood the “valour district.” And City Council recently gave a unanimous green light to move ahead with considering the previously unheard-of scheme.

In early March the gallery at City Council was crowded with Kingston residents, many from the Skeleton Park neighbourhood. They had come to support the movement to finally put an end to the plans to drive the Wellington Street Extension through one of the few green spaces in the near north end. Thankfully, it seems like a Council majority agrees with the four neighbourhood women who have led the determined effort to put a stop to the pricey, disruptive road.

Then, at the end of the meeting, two suburban councillors came up with another motion aimed at our district.

Moved by Councillor Osanic, Seconded by Deputy Mayor Boehme

Whereas brave members of this community stepped forward in World War I and World War II to fight for King and country, and
Whereas many made the ultimate sacrifice in battle, and
Whereas interested supporters of the military community have requested an area be designated to commemorate the departure of the 21st Battalion and members of Queen’s Stationary Hospital from Kingston 100 years ago in May 2015,
Therefore Be It Resolved That staff be directed to bring a report to Council in April 2015, after having completed consultation, to consider designating an area spanning from the Kingston Armouries to Fort Frontenac as “Valour District” to commemorate the valiant military service of past Kingstonians and that the report would include the cost options with either altering or adding the district signs, an implementation plan, and a proposed schedule for the installation of the signs.

The language reflects the nineteenth century imperial spirit that no doubt gave rise to the street names that already dot the environs of Skeleton Park. Balaclava. Alma. Redan. Raglan. They speak of the Crimean War, best remembered as a testament to the long history of incompetence in the conduct of war – the tragically notorious Charge of the Light Brigade. Then, of course, we have Artillery Park. And, most bizarre of all, Ordnance Street – named after ammunition.

Proposed valour district street signs. (Draft)

Proposed valour district street signs. (Draft)

Kingston has almost as many war memorials as it does plaques and statues honouring Sir John A. Macdonald. We have artillery pieces in parks. A fine new Memorial Park – echoing Washington’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial — with the names of those killed in war. A City Hall Memorial Room with romantic, stained glass images of World War One. Triumphalist statues.

The issue of a valour district may provoke questions for some. It certainly does for me. That’s because I’ve been pondering issues of peace and war as well as the culture and politics of commemoration for several years now.

*Does Kingston have sufficient war memorials, especially those that tend to emphasize glory and valour?

*Who will be consulted about the proposed valour district? Will city officials confine their discussions to private chats with unnamed “supporters of the military community”? What about those of us who actually live nearby?

*Kingston has placed a moratorium on new commemoration initiatives until we have a fresh commemoration policy in place. The new policy has been subject to widespread community consultation, with consultants hired and surveys circulated. How does the apparent rush to commemorate a little-known 1915 event fit in with the city’s moratorium?

Proposed boundaries of the valour district. (Draft)

Proposed boundaries of the valour district. (Draft)

*Is there a way of commemorating this particular part of Kingston to include the first peoples who used the place?

*Should we develop ways of commemoration that highlight war’s unspeakable tragedies, its follies, it waste of life and its corrosive environmental effects?

*When commemorating people who have died on the job, why does the Official Story so often ignore workers who have built our city and died doing so? Are they not also worth commemorating?

The local group PeaceQuest planted a young oak tree in City Park on the International Day of Peace in 2013, just as the various WW I centenaries (see motion, above) were about to begin. The accompanying plaque, together with a granite marker, reads “Grieving the tragedy of war, committed to the promise of peace.” The group was obliged to pay for the granite marker out of its own funds. Who will pay for changing the street signs should this “valour district” go through?

Let’s stop harping on war. Let’s give peace a chance.

Kingston writer Jamie Swift has lived in the Skeleton Park area for 25 years. He’s the author with Ian McKay, of “Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety.” Jamie and Ian are working on “The Vimy Trap,” a book about the cultural politics of commemoration

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