Sunday, November 27, 2011

Masons' War Memorial Targeted by Vandals

It's a dismal commentary on a city when it cannot protect memorials to its war dead. But sadly that appears to be the case in Windsor where area Masons are proposing to move their battered Malden Park memorial out of the city to safeguard it from rampaging vandals and chronic civic inattention.

Appalled by the monument's condition and never-ending assaults on it by park denizens, the Masons are looking seriously at moving it, piece by piece, to a secure site on the grounds of the Canadian Transportation Museum and Heritage Village on Arner Town line in greater Kingsville.

"It's a shame it has to come to that, but if it stays here it's not going to be standing in 10 years," said an angry Geoff Perry, past deputy grandmaster of the Windsor District Masons and chairman of its memorial committee. "Heritage Village has offered the property and we're looking at the practicality of moving it. We've got to get it to an area where it's not going to be abused."

Perry, an old pal, was livid this week as he led me on a tour of the hillside memorial to 26 young Masons from the Windsor region who were killed in the First and Second World Wars.

Tucked into the south side of "Mount Malden" overlooking a walking trail and a picturesque pond with many ducks, the monument would, at first glance, appear to be a jewel in an idyllic setting.

But the very thing that made it an attractive site on paper, the peace and quiet of relative isolation, has also made it easy pickings, especially at night, for pinheads with too much time on their hands and zero respect for Canada's wartime sacrifices.

In 2008, The Star reported that the memorial had been vandalized twice in the previous year, with a granite slab pried from the plinth and smashed in two.

There had also been graffiti and paintball attacks, smashed beer bottles were strewn about and benches had been damaged. Perry said at the time that he was unhappy with the city's lack of maintenance, including its failure to replace dead trees.

Things were fixed. But three years later it remains a soft target. "These juvenile ... holes are using it as a fort," fumed Perry, pointing to green paintball splotches sprayed across the monument's stone walls. "Do they really know what this is? Do they care?"

Perry, a retired federal employee, said he was one of the first paintball fanatics in Windsor in the 1980s, but he and his compatriots would never have considered using a memorial to the dead as a playground for, of all things, war games. He puts it down to ignorance. The schools have been doing a first-rate job in recent years of teaching kids about Remembrance Day and honouring Canada's sacrifices, but he believes an entire generation slipped through the educational cracks and hasn't a clue.

A massive black granite stone, etched with the names of Masons killed in two World Wars, from the Battle of the Atlantic to the raid on Dieppe, and positioned horizontally, is badly scratched and scarred, to the point where names are becoming obscured. "Those are snowboard and skateboard scrapes. They're using it as a ski ramp," said Perry, shaking his head.

He argues that the parks department, which built the monument in 2000 with $45,000 from the Masons, has failed to meet maintenance obligations. He pointed out cracked and crumbling masonry, a foundation that's falling apart and a sinking, eroding walkway. The monument looks way older than its 11 years.

Two small red oaks have been broken off near the base and the two memorial benches are missing. Perry claims one is being used as a lunch bench in the park's maintenance shed. If so, that's truly salt in the wound.

I raised these issues with new city parks boss John Miceli. He told me he wants to meet with Perry as soon as possible and hear his concerns. "If we haven't been doing our part I'll look into it and address it. I'll take care of all of his concerns," said Miceli. That's an offer worth pursuing.

But it might be too late. Perry told me his experience is that the parks department responds when there's media attention but soon returns to pat-terns of neglect. Out of sight, out of mind.

"It was a magnificent concept," said Perry, but he fears the Malden Park location will always be vulnerable because of its isolation and lack of lighting.

At Heritage Village, far from the Malden yahoos, it could be rebuilt on a landscaped site next to King Edward Heritage Lodge, a handmade reproduction of an old Ontario Masonic hall and would be seen by an estimated 40,000 visitors annually. That's tempting.

Bottom line? The status quo isn't working. At the current rate of deterioration the memorial time capsule, which is supposed to be opened on June 24 in the year 2100, won't make it to the next decade.

Still, it's heartbreaking to think of a war memorial, built to honour those who refused to buckle in the face of death, being chased out of Windsor by mindless louts.

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