The cenotaph at Carrot Park in Port Hardy was built in 1982 by a group of local veterans with limited skills who did the best they could in constructing it.
“It was a bunch of miners who were Legion members,” said Russ Hellberg, one of the project organizers. “They weren’t stone masons or anything, but they did the best they could.”
In 2000, cracks started to show in the cenotaph’s mortar and pieces began falling out. This caused the plaques to loosen and the cross to bend, showing signs of corrosion. The damage was due to years of the park being flooded and strong winds blowing salt water onto the cenotaph. The mortar has since disintegrated to the point it is beyond practical repair.
“When we took the crane machine to it the other day (Saturday, Aug. 6), all they did was touch it and some of the stones and two facial pieces literally fell off,” said Hellberg.
Thanks to funding from the Cenotaph Restoration Program (District and Federal government), the Port Hardy Royal Canadian Legion, the 101 squadron, and the Port Hardy Rotary Club, the cenotaph is officially on its way to being ‘restored’, along with the First Nation’s WW1-WW2 memorial totem pole which was erected in 1996 about 1,200 meters away on the main street.
The reason the memorial totem pole wasn’t placed next to the cenotaph originally was due to the fact that “Both Calvin Hunt and I realized that the cenotaph wasn’t acceptable, so if we put the totem pole next to it we realized we’d run into the same problem. So we ended up putting it where it’s visible and significant for the time being, and we’d work on building a new cenotaph,” said Hellberg.
The project hasn’t been an easy one to get off the ground. Two previous applications to build an entirely new memorial were rejected due to “a lot of background politics,” Hellberg said, but with the first step of dismantling the cenotaph, cleaning and saving the facial pieces, and taking the memorial totem pole to Hunt’s copper shop for restoration, the project has now moved along through it’s first phase.
The next step is the excavation and preparation of the three foundations for the key items of the monument at it’s soon to be new location which is higher, dryer and on more solid, compact ground. They will also have to reroute the electrical feed to the new site.
After that will be the completion of the foundation for the memorial totem pole and the cenotaph. This includes an archaeological assessment as required by the Province of B.C. Heritage Branch.
Once that’s finished, the cenotaph will be rebuilt using all of the facial parts from the old one. The cross will then be installed on the centre piece of the combined cenotaph/monument, and to finish off the project, the refurbished flag poles will be installed in their new location along with the shrubbery and sod needed to bring the site up to standards.
For Hellberg, the project is a matter of principle. He’s been working on it since 1996. “The way I look at things, either you have something that’s done correct or you don’t have it done correct,” he said. “We use the cenotaph for a number of things – Remembrance Day, the Battle of Britain, and there’s also times during the year when the military would show up, and we didn’t feel good using the old cenotaph. I believe in finishing things, and we wanted to make sure the memorial totem pole was in its rightful place.”
The grand opening and dedication will be held November 11, 2016. The entire process is projected to cost $44,465.