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Barrie puts final touches on new military heritage park this week

The long-awaited military heritage park opens next weekend as part of Illuminate Barrie, the city's Canada 150 celebrations that include a heritage village, watersports shows and fireworks.

When City of Barrie landscape architect Bill McGregor looks east from the Southshore Community Centre, he imagines how the vision for the new military heritage park could shape up.

And as the city’s project lead, he will be guiding crews next week as they prepare the park for its soft opening on Sept. 2 during the Illuminate Barrie Canada 150 celebrations.

The finishing touches include the installation of coloured concrete paving stones to delineate pathways, the laying of sod, the planting of grasses and perennials to create passive, open landforms that recall the battlefields and those who fought for our freedom.

“It’s been a balancing act. I’m looking forward to painting it green with sod next week,” said McGregor. “It suddenly brings everything together.”

The story of the park began in 2006, when the Rotary Club of Barrie proposed such a feature honouring the city’s military history and its relationship with CFB Borden.

Work started in 2009, as the city took on a series of major waterfront projects, including Memorial Square, Bayview Park (now renamed Sam Cancilla Park), Centennial Park and the proposed military heritage park.

Centennial Park’s upgrades largely opened for the August long weekend; Memorial Square will have a gathering space in time for Remembrance Day.

But for Illuminate Barrie, the new military heritage park – a $1.5-million project that received final approval in 2015 – will open.

This past week, three steel panels that feature poppies, tulips and feathers were installed, as was the primary park signage. Construction crews worked on creating the hills and valleys, adding finishes to a wall designed to symbolically represent the trenches from the First World War.

“I am as close to being on schedule as I can be. We’ve had a couple of minor delays related to weather,” McGregor said.

“There are lots of little things that are going to make this space pop.”

The uplighting for the main park signage is one, along with lighting for three steel features highlighting poppies, tulips and feathers.

McGregor said the three Corten steel panels, when they are lit either by the sun or by the uplighting, will define the trench walk, create shadows and appear as soldiers to those viewing the park from across Kempenfelt Bay.

Detailing the imagery on the panels artistically keeps to the theme of the park as a passive space. The poppy, the tulip (which references the liberation of Holland), and the feather (which recognizes the contributions of indigenous peoples in battles starting with the War of 1812) will all be detailed with interpretive signage.

Poppies, however, won’t be growing in the park, said Walter Fischer, the city’s parks planning and development supervisor – but not because the designers didn’t try to include them.

“The original idea was to recreate mass plantings of poppies, but in researching the poppy for varieties, it’s difficult to have the plant flower at the time of year you want them to in order to represent remembrance,” said Fischer.

“So we are investigating other ways to depict poppies.”

Fischer added other communities use artificial poppies as art installations to add the colour and drama as Remembrance Day approaches. Such projects have been done in Ottawa and London, England.

“We are also working with local service clubs and agencies on other remembrance projects and once developed, these projects will bring more visual impact to the park space,” he added.

There will be three new flagpoles and a Victoria Cross obelisk will flank a ceremonial plaza. The ANAF monument now in Centennial Park will be relocated to a small court area south of this central green space.

McGregor has also worked to respect and to highlight the railway history on the site, including the placement of a round, concrete band in the park and central ceremonial plaza to accentuate the exterior roundhouse walls.

In assessing the site just east of the Southshore Community Centre, McGregor saw the roundhouse features, both its exterior wall that supported the roof and the internal structure on which trains were placed. “For the time, that was amazing engineering,” he said of the building that dated to 1890.

“That (railway) theme will also be highlighted in the adjacent heritage trail interpretation area on the west side of the Southshore Community Centre.”

In assessing the site just east of the Southshore Community Centre, McGregor saw the roundhouse features, both its exterior wall that supported the roof and the internal structure on which trains were placed.

“For the time, that was amazing engineering,” he said of the building that dated to 1890.

Inside the limits of that roundhouse is a hill, which will offer a vantage point for people to watch Canada Day fireworks. From that hill, pedestrians will also be able to see the park’s various features – including the Beach Landing, the Ceremonial Plaza, the Trench Walk and the Marching Forest.

The new park also does not disturb the heritage rose garden installed in 2000, yet it ties the pedestrian pathways along the south shore together as they approach the wooded area near Minet’s Point. At the eastern edge of that woodland facing the new military heritage park, the Rotary Club of Barrie has donated 25 Vimy oak trees grown from descendant acorns that were shipped back to Canada by Lt. Leslie Miller after the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917 from the one native oak to survive the battle. These new oaks are yet another link of the park with our military history.

“This was just a massive poison ivy field,” recalled McGregor, “an empty unusable space because of the poison ivy and the concrete just below the surface. It was an under-utilized public space.”

The unusable field also features a fox den, which McGregor ensured was blocked off and undisturbed.

“We expect to see the foxes back next spring. They’ve been a staple here for a number of years. We’ve been working to ensure none of the work we’ve done will affect their existing den area,” said McGregor.

“It’s like a giant puzzle coming together. “


Laurie Watt

About the Author: Laurie Watt

A journalist with 35 years experience in newspapers, Laurie is also an active volunteer in Barrie.
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