West Bench regional district director Michael Brydon says the new statues unveiled Saturday at Selby Park have raised some eyebrows. The sculpture depicts a soldier holding a gun in one hand and his wife's hand in the other. The soldier is also shown with a piece missing from his midsection. Selby Park has several new fixtures meant to commemorate the war veterans who helped settle the area.

West Bench regional district director Michael Brydon says the new statues unveiled Saturday at Selby Park have raised some eyebrows. The sculpture depicts a soldier holding a gun in one hand and his wife's hand in the other. The soldier is also shown with a piece missing from his midsection. Selby Park has several new fixtures meant to commemorate the war veterans who helped settle the area.

New veterans’ memorial park opens on West Bench

Soldier sculpture that forms part of the tribute just outside Penticton has provoked unexpected reactions, says local politician

Now inscribed on bronze plaques in a West Bench park are the names of 186 war veterans who helped settle the community and, more recently, began providing a history lesson to new arrivals.

Neighbours on Saturday celebrated the official grand opening of Selby Park, which is home to the plaques and an accompanying map that shows who lived where when the first residents moved to the new subdivision in the 1950s.

The other notable addition to the park is a bright, yellow sculpture that depicts a solider holding a gun in one hand and his wife’s hand in the other.

“Some people have had an interesting response to that,” Michael Brydon, the area director for the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, told the crowd.

“Some people have said, ‘Look, there’s a guy holding a gun and holding his family’s hand. I don’t know how I feel about that.’”

But Brydon said the sculpture is meant to make people think and consider what life was like for Second World War veterans who settled there with assistance provided under the Veterans’ Land Act.

“How did they feel about dropping everything, going off to war, and then coming back as if nothing had happened?” Brydon said.

The focus of the park, he continued, “is to remind people that something important happened, and it matters a lot.”

Sue Gibbons, who spearheaded the effort to overhaul the park as a tribute to her father, Bob Jenkins, and other veterans, said the idea was conceived in 2009 and realized with the help of a $25,000 grant from Veterans’ Affairs Canada.

Once work got underway in 2012, “the fun began,” Gibbons said, “trying to find the original veterans’ names to coincide with their original lot numbers. At times, it seemed like a giant jigsaw puzzle.”

Bob Bailey, one of 12 veterans on hand for Saturday’s ceremony, still lives in the Sunglo Drive home he purchased with his wife, Lilla, in 1960.

He wasn’t in the first wave of veterans who received bare lots, but rather bought the developed property with a $12,000 mortgage backed by Veterans Affairs Canada.

Bailey, who served in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War, said the new park will offer the community a much-needed space to gather.

“This is great,” he said, adding new residents “will be more inclined to get together.”

The park is named after Eric Selby, who, in 1952, won a lottery that gave him first pick of the lots being offered under the Veterans’ Land Act, which helped returning soldiers buy property and establish their lives.