Frederictonians ramp up efforts to stop construction on Officers’ Square

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WATCH: Members of a concerned citizens group are asking the tourism minister to step in over what they call the destruction of a heritage site. Adrienne South has more.

Members of the “Save Officers’ Square” community group say they’ll do whatever it takes to stop the City of Fredericton from “destroying” a provincial and national heritage site, including taking legal action.

Group members say the city’s plan to revitalize the square is threatening the key “character-defining elements” that contribute to the heritage character of the site.

Beth Biggs was one of four members of the panel who presented to dozens of concerned Frederictonians on Friday.  Biggs said the group initially came together in an attempt to save more than a dozen of the large trees in the square. She said the focus has shifted to preserving the history of the entire square.

The city is awaiting final sign-off from New Brunswick’s Minister of Tourism, Heritage and Culture John Ames on their plans to revitalize the square.

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READ MORE: ‘It’s disappointing’: City of Fredericton proceeds with removal of five trees in Officers’ Square

“We wanted to present that our call to the Minister and Heritage, to ask him to put an immediate halt to the construction and demolition of a historic national site.  I think he needs to do further consultation on the matter,” Biggs said.  “The character-defining elements of the square are not being respected or maintained.

“We will only accept a plan that plans that plans to preserve, conserve and restore those character-defining elements.”

According to information listed in Parks Canada’s Directory of Federal Heritage Designations, those elements include the site’s proximity to the river, the late 19th century cast iron fence, trees, and park amenities, and the integrity of any unidentified archaeological remains that could be buried in the area.

Biggs said the city has obligations to protect the history and heritage of the site.

READ MORE: Fredericton resident plans protest against city’s plan to cut down more than a dozen trees

She said the group is launching a legal fund in the next few days in case the province does sign off on the construction and changes to the square.

“We’re doing as much research as we can to find any possible legal means that we can get to stop this,” Biggs said.

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Lamrock’s Law associate Chris Durrant was in attendance at the meeting and cited concerns over the city’s decision to contract out the construction before any final approval from the provincial government.

“I think Officers’ Square is part of our provincial heritage and a historic site like that needs a lot of oversight, in terms of protecting its special character,” Durrant said.

READ MORE: Fredericton mayor to take concerns over Officers’ Square tree removal back to council

Durrant said he’s advised the group that they should consider putting in a complaint to the ombudsman’s office about the processes through which city hall is working.

A special development committee meeting is being held Tuesday night.

READ MORE: City of Fredericton waiting for provincial approval for Officers’ Square construction

Fredericton Mayor Mike O’Brien said the work being done on St. Anne’s Point Drive went ahead, but he said the rest of the project is on hold until after Tuesday’s meeting.

O’Brien said city staff will be presenting several new designs that incorporate keeping five or six of the larger trees in the square.

“We’re going to present some of that Tuesday night, some options. I haven’t even seen them yet, but I know staff are working hard with all the designers and consultants. The public is going to have an opportunity to engage and give us their two cents worth on what they like or dislike, and we’ll take that back and make that information part of our final consideration,” O’Brien said.

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He said there’s been no formal approval from the province, aside from being allowed to continue with road work — which included the removal and reconstituition of the retaining wall and the removal of the five trees.

“That’s the only formal approval we have at this time and the staff are continuing to work with the heritage staff, they meet almost daily to try to advance the file so we’re very optimistic,” O’Brien said.

In terms of what’s next, Biggs said members will be in attendance and have signed up to present their concerns to the committee.

“We present at the meeting, we continue our research into legal aspects and then we continue our lobbying to the Minister of Heritage to ask him to put a halt to this matter,” Biggs said.