Veterans seek clarity on future of Penticton park

Downtown revitalization plans may impact the park that hosts Penticton’s cenotaph

City staff met recently with a veterans’ group to allay concerns about how downtown revitalization plans may impact the park that hosts Penticton’s cenotaph.

Veterans’ Memorial Park lies beside the courthouse at the north end of the 100 block of Main Street, one of three areas the city intends to upgrade in 2014.

Improvements to Gyro Park are likely on the agenda and that made some veterans nervous about what effect that might have on their park, which is right across the street.

“I didn’t mean to make any trouble, but I wanted some answers,” said Joe Duffy, who represents the Penticton Naval Veterans’ Association on the Veterans’ Memorial Park Committee and called for the meeting. “Now I have a better idea what’s going on.”

The six veterans at the meeting told Anthony Haddad, the city’s director of development services, that they wanted to raise the profile of the memorial park, but not so much so that it becomes a place where people play catch or watch concerts without giving any thought to the significance of the space.

“We’re trying to make it so that people treat the park with respect,” said Dennis Hill, who represent the Army, Navy and Airforce Veterans in Canada group on the  committee.

He said the park is consecrated under federal war graves legislation, although the land is owned by the provincial government.

“My personal feeling is it should be left more or less the same,” Hill said. “What changes will be made, we’re in favour of if it enhances the looks of it from the outside.”

Haddad emphasized during the meeting that no plans for redesign have yet been made, and won’t be without input from the veterans.

“It’s going to be an open discussion in terms of what the vision is for that park,” he said afterwards.

City council approved $75,000 to complete the design work for the entire 100 block and Haddad expects that process to begin in early 2013. Two other areas currently slated for improvement under the revitalization plan are the old bus barn on Ellis Street and part of Westminster Avenue.

“The concepts are to green the downtown with really good opportunities at the north and south end. But we’ve got to obviously go through the process, be respectful of existing conditions, existing uses, and see really what the best results for the community are,” Haddad said.

“We heard from the vets at the meeting that they really want to make people more aware that this facility exists, and I’m sure we can make that a significant part of the planning process.”

Haddad suggested that some sort of barrier could be added to the perimeter of Veterans’ Memorial Park to indicate its special status. The barrier could take the form or a fence, benches or landscaping.

“There’s a number of different tools that could be used, but we really want to hear from the groups,” said Haddad. “We’re not going to make any decisions until we hear what the needs of the army, navy and air force representatives are.”

The Veterans’ Memorial Park Committee was struck in 2005 to bring together all of the city’s veterans’ groups and oversee improvements at the site, which included the installation of memorial cairns for police officers and firefighters. Hill is also working on carved-wood signs that will be erected at the entrances to the park.