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Hope grows for Stouffville garden amid cenotaph, armoured tank relocation plan

The sunlight that pierced through the clouds in Stouffville shone on the snow-covered plants at Memorial Park.

At the corner of Park Dr. and Booth Dr., large stones encircle a collection of  greenery:  liatris, black-eyed susans, coreopsis, and tulips, to name a few.

The “ecosystem” was built by volunteers with the Stouffville Horticultural Society in 2017, to mark Canada’s 150th birthday.

“It is the most relaxing therapy,” said Raj Patel about working on the garden.

For six years, the society says the ecosystem has been thriving, its roots growing deeper in the soil.

It attracts many community members who stop and look.

Canada 150 garden in full bloom in the spring. Via Stouffville Horticultural Society

Then, last December, the “pride” that the society felt about the garden turned to shock and disappointment.

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“When all of a sudden we found out the garden was going to be destroyed to accommodate the cenotaph, we were horrified,” said Joan Bostock, a spokesperson with the Stouffville Horticultural Society.

Last year, Stouffville Legion Branch 459 presented a deposition to town council about the town’s cenotaph. The monument, which has been relocated four times, currently sits in front of the legion office on Mostar St. The legion says the space cannot accommodate Remembrance Day ceremonies.

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“At our current location, it is confined. It’s right by a busy street, and our small parking lot,” said Murray Pattenden, past-president of the legion.

“Moving the cenotaph will create a larger area where people can attend a larger gathering in a safer space,” he said.

Pattenden asked council to relocate the cenotaph back somewhere in Memorial Park, its original location. The town was also offered a decommissioned tank as a donation from the Ministry of National Defense.

Town staff came back with two suggested locations for the cenotaph and the tank in the park.

In December, council voted for the first option, where the Canada 150 garden sits. The Horticultural Society wasn’t contacted.

War memorial rendering featuring the cenotaph and tank that would replace the garden. Via Town of Whitchurch – Stouffville

Bostock says the garden cannot be adjusted to accommodate the war memorial, as moving plants would destroy them. Furthermore, the society worries about the symbolism that the tank holds.

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“I come from a war-torn country, Uganda, as a refugee in 1972,” said Patel. “For me, tank is a symbol of war, I don’t want to see it again in Stouffville, and a garden is a symbol of love and peace,” he said.”

In a post on his website, Mayor Iain Lovatt said he received an email from a Stouffville veteran that says “to people who understand the purpose of tanks and armed forces it is a very real symbol of peace-making and peace-keeping.”

A petition by the society to stop the move had more than 1,700 signatures by Friday.

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Pattenden said he cannot speak for anyone’s opinion on the tank, but explained the legion never intended for the garden to be destroyed. They didn’t chose the location either.

“We want to support everybody. We’re not here to hurt anybody, or tear anything down. We’re just here to promote our cenotaph,” he said.

The mayor’s office said no one was available for comment on Friday.

In his post, Lovatt said not consulting the Horticultural Society was an “oversight and an error of omission, not commission that as mayor, I take full responsibility for.”

On Friday, representatives with the Mayor’s office met with the Horticultural Society, which Bostock said was a “positive and transparent” meeting.

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The mayor’s office says they will begin plans to consult with the public on an appropriate location for the war memorial.

“Whatever the city decides, we will support it,” said Pattenden.

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