Motion pursuing historic designation for Battalion Park numbers endorsed by city committee

Click to play video: 'Calgary councillor seeks national historic status for Signal Hill battalion numbers' Calgary councillor seeks national historic status for Signal Hill battalion numbers
Ward 6 Coun. Jeff Davison joins Global News Morning Calgary via Skype to discuss his notice of motion to recognize the national significance of the battalion numbers on Signal Hill. – Nov 9, 2020

A Calgary city committee has unanimously endorsed a motion to request National Historic Designation for the battalion numbers on the hillside at Signal Hill.

The motion, brought forward by Ward 6 city councillor Jeff Davison to the priorities and finance committee on Tuesday, is asking the city to submit a proposal to the federal government to recognize the site for its national historic significance.

“Every year we lost a little bit more to the history books and a little bit more is forgotten,” Davison said Tuesday. “Fundamentally parks like this are a lasting reminder to the young people of tomorrow, who will become gatekeepers of future stories, that this matters.”

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The site, now known as Battalion Park, has been home to the rock formations outlining the numbers 137, 113, 151, and 51 for more than a century.

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The numbers, made up of 16,000 stones from the river nearby, represent regiment numbers of four Alberta battalions in the First World War.

The geoglyphs have stood on the site since 1915 when soldiers in the Canadian Expeditionary Force hauled the rocks up the hill to make the formations.

“At that time they used whitewashed stones that they picked up from the river and carried into the camps to mark lines and tents and unit identifiers,” LTC. Darryl Watts with the Kings Own Calgary Regiment said. “As part of that, they then carried rocks up onto the hillside, which is now Battalion Park, and laid out their regimental numbers as an activity to keep busy, to keep fitness and it carried on their names so that we remembered them to this day.”

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The site was formerly known as Camp Sarcee, land leased by the Tsuut’ina Nation to the Canadian Militia.

It was the second-largest military training base in Canada at the time.

45,000 soldiers, mostly volunteers from across Alberta, trained at the camp before being shipped overseas to fight in the Great War.

“That’s a huge number when you think about the population of Calgary, and the population of Alberta,” Heritage Calgary executive director Josh Traptow said. “That 7.5 per cent of our population passed through that camp, that is a significant number, knowing that one in eight did not return.”

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More than 6,100 Albertans lost their lives in the First World War, and another 21,000 were wounded.

“I think now more than ever, with democracy in question around the globe, its time to protect these sites and fundamentally remember why we have them to begin with,” Davison said. ““Federal recognition is important to me given the contributions Calgarians and Albertans made during World War I.”

The regiment numbers have a special connection to the Kings Own Calgary Regiment, of which members spent a snowy morning at the site to participate in an observance ceremony on Tuesday.

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“The 137th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force is perpetuated today by the Kings Own Calgary Regiment, so a regiment that was started in 1910 in Calgary served through World War 1, through World War 2 and through Afghanistan today,” LTC. Watts said. “Definitely, the soldiers in Calgary have a connection to this park and the numbers on the hillside.”

The site has already been given historic designations by the municipal and provincial governments, and if approved would be the third site in the city recognized by all three levels of government.

Unlike the city and provincial recognition, national historic designation won’t come with any legal protections, Traptow said, but it would honour the significance of the site and the province’s contributions and sacrifice for the war effort.

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“We have no World War 1 veterans left, we’re getting to the point that soon we will no longer have World War 2 veterans left, and so we need to remember those veterans and those soldiers that did not return,” Traptow said.

Following the endorsement from the committee, the notice of motion will now go before council as a whole on December 14.

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