NCC scales back divisive communism memorial (Emma Jackson, Ottawa East News)

The Victims of Communism memorial has been drastically reduced in size, but the NCC has moved closer to finalizing its controversial location.

The National Capital Commission presented a significantly smaller design for the proposed monument at its board of directors meeting on June 25, but it also approved starting a decontamination project on the site in preparation for the monument’s construction – something Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum called “discouraging.”

He said the NCC’s advisory committee on planning, design and realty had expressed clearly in the minutes of its May project review that it does not support putting the monument in the vacant site beside the Supreme Court of Canada, because it has long been reserved for a third court building to complete a “judicial triad” on the capital’s most recognizable road.

Nussbaum has been vocal about the fact that the monument’s location goes against the NCC’s long term vision and plan, which the city and other stakeholders approved in 2006. He even passed a motion at city council last month asking the federal government to find a new location for the monument.

The site decontamination approval, which passed 6 to 3, takes the NCC one step further from saying no to the site, Nussbaum said. The directors should have instead respected its advisory committee’s wishes and asked Public Works to compile a list of alternative sites.

One director did suggest the green space just west of the monument’s proposed location would be a better fit, as the long term plan labels it a public green space. But that conversation went nowhere.

The NCC still has to approve the final design, and at that point it could take its last opportunity to consider other sites. But Nussbaum said concerned residents can’t rest on their laurels.

“I think it’s really important for the public to continue to let the government of Canada know how they feel about the proposed site,” he said.

The monument is meant to honour the 100 million lives lost under totalitarian communist regimes of the 20th century, while promoting Canada as a land of refuge.

The NCC had originally proposed putting it several hundred metres down the road in the Garden of Provinces and Territories, but that wasn’t prominent enough for the private group Tribute to Liberty, which has been spearheading the project and ran the monument’s design competition last year.

The winning design, which was announced in December 2014, was supposed to cover 60 per cent of the property. But now it will only take up 37 per cent of the site – and it could be reduced even further to more like 33 per cent, according to National Capital Commission planning director Stephen Willis.

He said there’s a hierarchy to monuments in downtown Ottawa; nothing can be taller or larger than the National War Memorial, which is about 21 metres from top to bottom.

The communism memorial would have been just over 14 m at its tallest point – under the revised design, the height now peaks at eight metres.

But the proposal also had a massive footprint, which has now retreated by almost half into the northwest corner of the lot, away from Wellington Street – with lots of added landscaping to soften the memorial’s design. The footprint is now comparable in size to the Canadian Firefighters’ Memorial near city hall, Willis said.

The monument has three parts: a series of “memory folds” (long, concrete triangles featuring 100 million pixels), a “bridge of hope” that visitors can walk across to get a full view of the folds, and, in front of the folds, a human figure and images from the totalitarian regimes that left 100 million dead to hammer home the point.

The original design called for seven folds ranging in height from 2.3 m to 14.35 m. After consultations with the artist and the federal Canadian Heritage department, that’s been dropped to five folds, and the tallest will max out at 8 m. Willis said that could even drop down to four.

The bridge of hope was set to peak at 11 metres high, but that’s been reduced to 5.16 m. 

As for the “troubling” imagery in front of the folds, Willis said the NCC has convinced the artist and Canadian Heritage to shift the memorial’s theme away from the horrors of communism and towards celebrating Canada as a “land of refuge” for millions of immigrants and refugees.

To that end, Willis said the artist is considering incorporating images from the passports and immigration papers of thousands of people who arrived in Canada seeking a new, democratic home.

To further soften the design, a dramatic coloured lighting plan has been softened to “gentle, white lighting,” Willis said.  

Source: Ottawa East News