Ottawa Citizen

Guides to tell passersby of cenotaph’s significan­ce

‘Step forward’ in protecting war memorial

- BY ANDREW DUFFY

The federal government will rely on interpreti­ve guides this summer to suggest to tourists and boors that the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is not a park bench.

Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson and National Capital Commission CEO Marie Lemay announced yesterday that the guides will be on site at the National War Memorial all summer.

“The guides will be there to inform visitors at the National War Memorial of its historic and powerful significan­ce,” Mr. Thompson said.

“They will also remind visitors that the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a sacred site and should be accorded our full respect.”

Two student guides will be on site at the memorial from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., seven days a week, until Aug. 24.

Dr. Michael Pilon, an Ottawa dentist who has campaigned for years to have the memorial properly protected, said he was pleased with the decision.

“I think it’s a step forward,” said Dr. Pilon, who famously photograph­ed a drunken reveller urinating on the National War Memorial on Canada Day weekend in 2006.

Ever since that day, Dr. Pilon has been pushing government officials to do something to guard the honour of the memorial. Garbage, he told them, was being dumped on its steps; skateboard­ers were surfing down its stairs; and tourists were posing children on top of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Royal Canadian Legion has, for years, also pressed the government for better security around the site.

Dr. Pilon has regularly visited the memorial and often hands out pamphlets to inform visitors of its significan­ce. Earlier this year, Dr. Pilon told the Citizen he approached a man lounging on the sarcophagu­s of the unknown soldier. The visitor didn’t know what it was and didn’t seem to care.

“It’s being treated like a little bench,” Dr. Pilon fumed at the time. “People think it’s attractive to put their kids around it.”

The unknown soldier was relocated in May 2000 from a cemetery near Vimy Ridge, the site of a seminal Canadian battle victory in the First World War.

Dr. Pilon, a retired army major, would still like to see the tomb cordoned off to signal to visitors that the site carries special meaning. “We have fences around the tulip gardens so people know not to step here. Surely we can do the same for this shrine,” he said.

Last summer, after the national outcry over Dr. Pilon’s Canada Day photos, the government posted ceremonial sentries at the memorial.

Those sentries will return again this year in addition to other security measures. There will be enhanced electronic surveillan­ce and more security patrols during tourist season; crowd-control equipment will be in place at the site on Canada Day.

The security measures were developed jointly by Veterans Affairs Canada, the National Capital Commission, the Department of National Defence and Public Works and Government Services Canada.

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