A few parking stalls is a small price to pay to create a park in honour of the stone soldier who has watched over Ross Street for the past 87 years, says Red Deer city council.
On Monday, councillors agreed to transfer $130,000 from the Public Realm Reserve toward creating a small park around the cenotaph, which was erected as First World War memorial and unveiled by Gov. Gen. George Byng, First Viscount of Vimy, on Sept. 15, 1922.
City planner Tara Lodewyk, in her report to council, said the statue and its location have high value both as a war memorial and as an architectural piece.
Carved from Tyndall stone, the soldier was the first commissioned piece made in Canada by architectural sculptor Frank Norbury, who had recently moved to Edmonton from his home in Liverpool, England.
Norbury deliberately faced the soldier toward the train station at the western end of Ross Street, where hundreds of young recruits said goodbye as they started the first leg of their journey overseas.
It now stands in honour of all soldiers, past, present and future, said Lodewyk.
Councillor Larry Pimm, who chaired the city’s historical preservation committee during the 1980s, recalled the furor that was raised at the suggestion that the cenotaph be moved to a different location.
“I can remember a long and emotional debate in which the community, by and large, said we want it so stay in the heart of the community,” said Pimm.
“This is going to be a splendid park. This is one of the pictures of Red Deer that makes us . . . have a sense of home.”
Building a small park around the cenotaph is among the top priorities in the Greater Downtown Action Plan, said city manager Craig Curtis.
Work on the park will start once a neighbouring office building has been finished.
The cenotaph and park will not interfere with the two lanes of traffic flowing through the city’s centre, said Curtis. There were two lanes before the office construction was started, there are two lanes now and there will be two lanes when the job is finished, he said.
At least one public open house will be held and there will be significant opportunity for residents and downtown businesses to have their say in the park’s final design, said Curtis.