Memorial cairn lacks historical foundation

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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The Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium

Commentary

Editor: I write in response to the letter of Messrs. Hopping, Murray, Painchaud and Sheridan of May 17.

Commemoration of First World War soldiers is not the issue. The issue is doing it in conjunction with the commemoration of a road in Malpeque called Plug Street. Glibness is evident in the letter writers’ statement that the memorial will be “not be hidden in a potato field” but will be “on Crown land.” What they don’t say is the postage stamp-sized plot of Crown land was recently carved off a privately owned potato field, that the cairn will be within a few feet of the potato field, and that potato sprayers will be repeatedly passing close to it throughout the summers for years to come.

Their research was deemed by the Directorate of History and Heritage of the Department of National Defense (DND) to be “insufficient” in terms of evidence that Plug Street was named after Ploegsteert in Belgium. I was so advised in a letter dated Sept. 25, 2009, from Serge Bernier, Director of History and Heritage, DND.

Their next step was to prevail upon the councillors of the Municipality of Malpeque Bay to declare Plug Street a memorial to Islanders who served at Ypres and Ploegsteert and to have the declaration registered by DND. Councillors, possessing no historical expertise, were not advised of DND’s prior verdict and the matter was handled quite irregularly — no letter to council, no discussion at a council meeting and no motion. With Plug Street having ‘officially,’ but arbitrarily  become a WWI memorial (it could have been declared a UFO landing site, as has occurred at St. Paul, Alberta), the way was paved to seek and obtain the involvement and support of the provincial government and of federal government agencies, one simply taking its cue from another.

The stage-wise ‘buy-in’ of officialdom has been procured on the basis of council’s arbitrary and aberrant declaration. The declaration was made in the absence of compelling evidence that Plug Street got its name from a Belgian battlefield —and with the existence of evidence (also not compelling) that it got its name in other ways.

Hope St. in Souris may have been named by someone who returned from a visit to Hope, B.C. and was impressed by the place. Lexi Ave. in Summerside may have received its name from the collision of two Lexus automobiles — and the plural of Lexus is Lexi, right? The evidence that underpins Malpeque’s Plug Street connection to Ploegsteert is simply conjecture.

The letter writers cite “vast” support for the Plug Street location for the soldiers’ memorial. During a three-week period last March/April 10, individuals wrote letters to The Guardian, expressing the view that the rationale for the Plug Street site was flawed and inappropriate.

 Less than three months ago J.D. Murray allowed to a reporter of The Guardian, “We can never prove what veteran or veterans named this piece of roadway Plug Street” (The Guardian, March 10). Now, apparently, he has “proven” that Cpl. G.E. Champion named Plug Street after Ploegsteert. I challenge Mr. Murray to produce credible evidence that this is so.

A verification that Champion fought at Ploegsteert would not in itself be compelling evidence! There is an assortment of other explanations of how Plug Street got its name, and some of them have been around for generations, in contrast to the recent Ploegsteert theory. The letter writers reject all of them out of hand, or pretend they don’t exist.

 The memorial cairn may have a physical foundation of cement, but it lacks a historical foundation in relation to a Ploegsteert connection. Instead of ignoring the verdict of DND’s Serge Bernier, instead of making lofty references to certain out-of-province historians with close military connections, who had probably never heard of Malpeque (except perhaps in the context of oysters), let these letter writers put their evidence before neutral, professional Island historians, such as those at UPEI.

Earle Lockerby,

Darnley

Organizations: Department of National Defense, Lexus

Geographic location: Plug Street, Belgium, Malpeque Bay St. Paul Alberta Hope Summerside

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