Since 2001, Ed Widenmaier has been working hard with a team to replace a small cenotaph in Central Saanich.
Widenmaier is a founding member of the Peacekeeping Veterans Association and he and others put together a stone with a plaque on it in front of the municipal hall, using it as a wreath laying site for local Remembrance Day ceremonies, but he said it just isn’t enough.
On Nov. 2, the District of Central Saanich approved a new location for the cenotaph to be in Centennial Park.
“Finally, throughout years of begging and three different mayors, it was finally established at that meeting that they are going to build a proper cenotaph and they will just transfer that stone with it,” said Widenmaier after learning about the council decision this week.
Leslie Fernstrom, a junior deacon at the Central Saanich Masonic Hall recently made a $10,000 donation on behalf of the organization, towards the new cenotaph. Being Masons, Fernstrom said monuments are their thing . In their own building on Newman Road, he said they have a corner stone, laid when the building was first built.
“If you look at Masonic tradition, these things are part of our heart and soul,” he said.
With a $10,000 start, Central Saanich council also agreed to match donations as they come in, taking it from their 2017 budget.
The new cenotaph has to be completed by March 31, 2016 in order to qualify for a grant from the federal government through the Veterans Affairs ministry.
Widenmaier said the community is growing and with a crowd in a confined space such as the municipal hall, people can’t properly take in the Remembrance Day ceremony, or see the current monument itself.
“Ours is like a penny to a Toonie,” he said.
He calls it “just an impersonation of a cenotaph” and has been busy trying to get donations from people to go towards the new structure.
Fernstrom said the small monument is embarrassing, adding there is something in the ground that nobody knows exists.
“I turned around to my brothers and I said to them, ‘this is it, this is a cenotaph?’”
His idea is to have a structure designed that has a soldier in the front and a farmer in the back as it fits in well with the Central Saanich farming community and those who served in times of conflict.
“I just want it to be something special other than what everybody else has got,” he said.
Both Fernstrom and Widenmaier are hoping to get youth involved, having them take part in a possible contest for design ideas and diagrams for the new structure.
“It’s something that they could respect and something they could be involved with by at least even looking at it when they’re playing baseball,” said Widenmaier.
Widenmaier, a retired veteran himself with 21 years in the military and 22 years with the Commissionaires, said getting a new cenotaph is important.
“What we have is not adequate, it never was adequate.”
“Here we have these people that did what they did and they should never be forgotten but in Central Saanich it has been (forgotten,” said Fernstrom. “There’s nothing there.”
With Centennial Park being approved as the new location, Widenmaier listed off many benefits, including space for lots of cars, power source, security with police nearby and situated in an area that youth will get to look at it all the time.
In any location, he said the cenotaph is about remembering those that served and is a sign of appreciation.
“To honour veterans in any location, there should be something to remind the public that thanks to their contribution, we’re here today, enjoying life today.”