Hometown Heritage

I’ve always thought the lakefront of my town of Barrie was beautiful, but this autumn it’s looking even better. Just ahead of Remembrance Week, the city (in partnership with nearby Canadian Forces Base Borden) opened its first Military Heritage Park. The park occupies a stretch of prime waterfront land and puts it to unparalleled use. As you will see from the following photographs, it’s a military park like no other– using symbols and images of wars past rather than military hardware to make an impression.

My mum and I (and dog) braved what was a rainy and unpleasant day to see the newly-opened park

A view across Kempenfelt Bay, with a section of sand reminiscent of perhaps the Normandy beaches in the foreground

Although not the largest city, Barrie has quite a rich military history. A reserve regiment, the Grey & Simcoe Foresters, is located in town; and the aforementioned Base Borden is only about twenty minutes away. Many residents of Barrie have fought historically for Canada. Most recently, a 24-year old graduate of a high school within view of my house was killed by an IED in Afghanistan.

Barrie was one of the communities chosen as a ship’s namesake in World War II. The connection really is a local one… the HMCS Barrie was laid down in a shipyard barely forty minutes’ drive from Barrie

The Military Heritage Park does a splendid job of drawing on Barrie’s wartime heritage and Canada’s as a whole. There are no aircraft or military vehicles staring you down as you walk through the park; the approach is much more subtle. And as much as I love traditional gate guardians, I’m really glad that the planners chose the design they did.

Continuing on past the sandy areas, visitors will pass a row of new oak trees beside a series of gardens. Although at first sight these appear to be simply a complement to the landscape, like many things in the park they hold something deeper. These oaks are born from a handful of acorns brought back by an Ontario soldier who fought in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. They are Vimy Oaks.

Amazing that these flourishing trees are descended from a landscape decimated by war

Alongside the Vimy Oaks there are three gardens. Each has a special significance; for example, one references Canada’s role in the liberation of Holland in the Second World War through its plethora of tulips. Each garden also features a large etched metal sculpture, cementing the theme of each one.

The bed of tulips; grim in the month of November, but poignant nonetheless

A memorial commemorating Canada’s recipients of the Victoria Cross through all conflicts up to World War II

The Military Heritage Park, while celebrating hometown heritage, also keeps its eye on the country as a whole. In the middle of the park stands a simple obelisk bearing the names of Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients. The Victoria Cross is the highest honour awarded for bravery in the UK, and in Canada as well.

I was surprised to learn that there were so many recipients of the Victoria Cross, being that it is such a high honour

The obelisk is a sharp and resolute object amidst the changeable lawns and gardens of the park

For me, the park’s greatest triumph is the section dedicated to the trench warfare of World War I. A small area of ground has been dug up into troughs and craters; recalling the enormous craters and holes that scarred France and Belgium from 1914-1918 and which indeed remain in places to this day.

The scene is barren and grim and very effective in bringing to mind the battlefields of World War I

A near-full view of the park; craters in foreground, then the interpretive gardens and city skyline beyond

As you’ve seen from this post and as I learned from my visit, Barrie’s Military Heritage Park is unlike any other. It is a place of peace and solemn symbolism; and although it’s in the very middle of the city, it feels like a world all its own. It feels how I imagine the military cemeteries in France feel. Secluded, but not lonely. Old, but not forgotten. It accomplishes all it should, by encouraging introspection in its visitors and thereby kindling true remembrance.

The park is a long-awaited addition to Barrie (having been announced a decade ago), and it was well worth the wait.

Lest we forget.

 

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