Monday, July 17, 2006

Viewpoint - June 2, 2006

Legion Building should be saved

Joe Kuchta

Special to The StarPhoenix

Friday, June 02, 2006

Following is the opinion of the writer, a Saskatoon resident.

The First World War Book of Remembrance located in the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill contains the names of the 66,655 Canadian men and women who lost their lives in the Great War.

Veterans Affairs Canada reports there were 4,961 fatalities from Saskatchewan. The province lost another 1,928 army and navy personnel during the Second World War.

The Canadian Legion was founded in 1925 with Saskatoon among the first cities in Canada to form a branch shortly thereafter.

In July, 1929, city council approved the sale of land on 19th Street to the Legion for $3,788. C.B. Miners Construction Company was awarded a contract for $41,000 and it was decided that only veterans, as far as possible, would be employed to build the hall.

The branch opened on Dec. 11, 1929.

The hall was designed by local architect David Webster, who was responsible for designing many of Saskatoon's early schools, including Caswell Hill, Buena Vista, Westmount, Princess Alexandra, King George, Albert and King Edward. Webster also supervised construction of the Cenotaph located in City Hall Square. His achievements as a community builder were recognized in the special section of the May 26 SP commemorating Saskatoon's 100th birthday.

Webster, a Legion member, served as a lieutenant in the First World War. He was wounded at Messines-Ploegsteert in 1918 and returned home a captain.

Other notable residents who worked hard to establish the Legion in Saskatoon were: Maj.-Gen. Arthur E. Potts, who was a professor of agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan; Arthur Moxon, the first dean of law at the U of S; Frederick Henshall, who was wounded and gassed at the second battle of Ypres and who served as branch secretary; Charles Nash, a bakery owner and city councillor; Lt.-Col. Edward J. Scott-Dudley, a farmer and a veteran of both the First World War and the Boer War; Dr. Charles G. Cox, who served with the Canadian Army Medical Corps; Arthur W. Robinson, who was registrar at the land titles office; and the branch president was Col. Percy J. Philpott, who was wounded three times and received the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Cross.

In his column City culture underfunded, (SP, Dec. 21, 2005) civic affairs columnist Gerry Klein wrote, "the Legion Building is not only physically attractive, it is a monument to the great suffering of Saskatchewan people who risked everything to serve their country."

He also says: "Saskatoon should be mustering its resources to save and enhance amenities such as the ... Legion building."

Sadly, owner Remai Ventures Inc. has scheduled the historic building for demolition next year. Only the Legion coat of arms plaque and the 1929 cornerstone from the building's exterior will be saved.

In June 2004, city council -- meeting in-camera as the executive committee -- abandoned the Legion Building when it decided to walk away from talks on establishing a Veterans' Museum within the hall. Council neither wanted the expense nor, as is more likely the case, to get in the way of developers wanting the land.

In contrast, the Legion Building on Cornwall Street in Regina, which was built in 1947, was designated a municipal heritage property in 1992. Among the reasons cited were the prominence of the building's architect and because the Legion is "an organization which commemorates, perpetuates and builds upon the memory of persons and events connected with an important aspect of Canadian history."

Remai, whom Mayor Don Atchison has described as "good corporate citizens," acquired the property after reportedly offering the Legion $1 million -- nearly four times its assessed value -- at a hastily called meeting on Dec. 14, 2005. Legion members were given until noon the next day to decide.

According to the developer the additional land will provide more design options for its luxury spa hotel.

"It breaks my heart to sell the building, but ... the reality is that we don't have the money to pay the bills," said branch president John Davidson. Apparently some members were working bingo nights just to cover the utility bills. Finding money to clean the carpets in the lounge and paint the ceiling was a challenge. Left to the vagaries of the marketplace, along comes a rich developer dangling an offer that couldn't be refused -- not for the building and what it represents -- just for the land.

Surely, the men and women of Saskatoon who served and died for their country deserve better.

© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2006


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