These vehicles, parked on Oct. 21 with their tires on the memorial cairn on top of Mount Prevost, are raising concerns about disrespect to the memorial for those lost in the two world wars. (Submitted photo)

T.W. Paterson column: Now is the time to ‘fix’ the Mount Prevost memorial

What better way to begin 2019 than with a golden, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?

Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done; today’s technology makes it easier (and more effective) than ever.

What better way to begin the new year than with a golden, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?

All thanks to, of all people, a small group of unidentified philistines who offended many when they were photographed with their off-road vehicles parked up against the 90-year-old, 190-metre-high war memorial on Mount Prevost.

“Trucks parking on Mount Prevost memorial cairn disrespectful, says senior,” read the Oct. 24 Citizen. G.E. Foreman and a friend had visited the memorial three days earlier. It was Foreman’s first visit and he was eager to view the iconic lighthouse structure that can only be seen from afar when its white paint makes it stand out from the mountain’s dark, southeastern shoulder.

To his disgust, a band of ATV-ers had already reached the cairn and one of their vehicles was parked with its front wheels touching the structure’s base.

“What a sad sight indeed to see the monument to our fallen soldiers desecrated,” he told reporter Robert Barron. The approach of Remembrance Day prompted him to take a photo of the offending vehicles and to report the incident to the Citizen.

Newly elected North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring, who led the campaign to upgrade and paint the cairn in 2000, acknowledged the isolated memorial’s vulnerability to vandalism. Pointing out that the municipality has tried to block access to motorized vehicles by installing gates and large boulders as barriers, he suggested that it “take another look”.

“It’s disturbing,” he said, that the cairn has a long history of vandalism: “When we restored [it] in 2000, we found bullets embedded in the glass of a solar panel that was installed in the 1970s. In an ideal world, the cairn would be respected and left alone.

“As it is, the municipality will have to take a second look at how we are restricting access to motorized vehicles there.”

(I should point out that the cairn site is owned by the province.)

Need it be said that not all vandals are motorized? Most visitors, certainly those with no ill intent, hike up from the parking lot several hundred feet below the cairn.

The panoramic view of most of southern Vancouver Island and surrounding waters is breathtaking and well worth the strenuous hike from the parking lot. Unfortunately, not all visitors have been content with the view or have come to pay homage to Cowichan’s fallen of two world wars and the Korean conflict.

It’s these cretins who’ve damaged it over the years — almost, in fact, from the time it was built. Sadly, incredibly, this is the second cairn. The first, constructed of loosely piled, rather than cemented, stones was ruined by vandals within three years of its construction shortly after the First World War!

The present memorial, solidly built in the form of a lighthouse, has withstood numerous assaults over the decades from, as noted, bullets in a solar panel to its original bronze tablet having been forcibly pried off. The idiot(s) responsible for that act weren’t trying to steal the plaque — they wanted to throw it over the precipitous edge of the mountain face where it was found, years later and hundreds of feet below.

Trespassing by off-road vehicles and parking with the tires abutting the memorial base may seem to be more a matter of disrespect, even cluelessness, and relatively insignificant when compared to the wanton vandalism cited above. But, as Mr. Foreman forcibly noted in October, the issue isn’t just that of vandalism: this is desecration of a war memorial — a sacred symbol of remembrance of the hundreds of Cowichan Valley men and women who gave their lives for King and Country.

As is the Cenotaph in Duncan’s downtown Charley Hoey VC Park. Would vandals consider this a worthwhile target for their senseless attacks?

Which brings us to what I see as a golden opportunity to make lemonade of lemons!

Alerted by the Oct. 24 article in the Citizen, and impressed by the site’s historical and sightseeing values, and significance to local First Nations, staff of the provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development initiated a conference call with Mayor Siebring and municipal staff. They offered to help to meet the challenging balance between improving the site’s accessibility to the public while protecting it from further vandalism.

Surely, with the province’s participation, we can achieve these two goals — and a third goal every bit as important and meaningful.

I’m referring to the fact that the cairn was built as a lighthouse not just for its symbolic significance but in fact. It was meant to shine as a beacon!

The very placement of the tower was deliberate — positioned so that its light could be seen from three points of the compass. For years, it actually achieved this effect with nothing more than an oil lantern. Until vandals took it out, of course. A subsequent lamp met with the same fate.

But that was then. Today’s technology changes everything. State-of-the-art industrial lighting, in particular that designed and produced by a Victoria firm of international repute, is possible.

If the province and North Cowichan can (more or less) vandal-proof the cairn they can vandal-proof a light in the tower.

Think of it! I’m not talking an overpoweringly bright light like those illuminated signs that pollute the southern entrance to Duncan or at Beverly Corners. No, just a single fixed, far-piercing beam of light shining each night from Mount Prevost. It would be, as originally intended, visible from ships at sea, from Juan de Fuca Strait to the Inside Passage, and from the first glimpses of Mount Prevost from the south. From those distances it would be, in effect, a star.

A star that honours all those Cowichan Valley residents who answered the call to duty in three wars.

Here in the Valley we honour the Battle of the Atlantic, the Burma Campaign and Remembrance Day. That’s three individual events on three specific occasions (although the run-up to Remembrance Day is about two weeks, of course).

Mount Prevost aglow would be a striking and poignant memorial, 24/7!

Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done; today’s technology makes it easier (and more effective) than ever. As for further vandalism, the province and North Cowichan have no choice but to do what they can to stop it.

While they’re at it, let them go all the way to restoring the light in the tower. Who better to lead the charge than newly-minted Mayor Siebring who accomplished a wonderful thing 10 years ago with the painting of the memorial. But its white coat only stands out from the mountain in the daytime, particularly in bright sunshine.

Far, far better that it also shine in the dark! This was what the builders, those who were motivated by the firsthand loss of family members and friends in the First War, intended. Now is the time to finish the job.

Let there again be a light on Mount Prevost!

www.twpaterson.com

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