A proposal to erect a commemorative plaque in Skaha Lake Park as a permanent reminder of the controversial waterslide park proposal that divided Penticton residents three years ago has been put on the backburner – for now.
At Thursday’s annual general meeting of the Protect Penticton Parks Society (PPPS) – originally named the Save Skaha Park Society (SSPS) when it was formed 3.5 years ago – a group of 50 members supported a motion to reject a proposal to erect a commemorative plaque in Skaha Lake Park.
Board member Dr. Gerry Karr said the current seven-member board, which will be stepping down soon after five new members stepped forward as new directors Thursday evening, doesn’t want to abandon the concept of a commemorative plaque in the park, but they all agreed they haven’t had enough time to finalize the details about the size and wording on the plaque.
“We’re not abandoning the concept, we just need a little more time,” he said.
The purpose and context for a commemorative plaque in Skaha Lake Park was to remind local residents what happened and encapsulate the PPPS’ assertion that commercialization of this city’s parks are not acceptable, said Karr.
“Everyone involved with the Skaha Lake Park controversy, no matter what side they were on, has had a chance by now to reflect and now is an opportunity to consider the lessons learned,” he said. “This reflection and opportunity to consider lessons learned is the context in which that proposal for the plaque was put forward.
“The plaque is intended to be an enduring and sober reminder that all governments are fallible and they can make mistakes and sometimes big mistakes. Sometimes big mistakes that if allowed to go to be enacted would result in permanent damage that could never be retrieved.”
The 5,100 members who joined the Society and waged the public battle against the former Council’s original support of the waterslide park proposal were the only reason this project didn’t move forward, said Karr.
“There is a vital role to be played by civil, emphasis on the word civil, but determined public opposition,” he said. “That is what saved Skaha Park did and that’s what future generations must remember that they can do to if the situation warrants.
“That’s democracy and thank goodness we live in a country that operates under democratic law.”
There has been much speculation when local media revealed recently the Society wished to erect a commemorative plaque in the park and because many wrongful assumptions about the group’s intentions, the board felt it best to allow the new board to deal with this matter in the coming months, said Karr.
“People were put in a position of having to guess what our intentions were when we put this proposal forward,” he said.
Public response “was quite varied from extreme to the other”, but many residents were critical without knowing all the facts, which is unfortunate, he said.
An email survey of Society members detailed the true intentions about the plaque proposal and received overwhelming support from the close to 350 members who responded.
Because this is an important issue and a new board of directors has stepped up, the best course of action right now is to not move forward with plans for a plaque, he said.
“I think with the benefit of hindsight, we need more time to consider this idea of a plaque to make sure it is clearly understood and there’s an opportunity and us to decide if it’s appropriate ... and how it should be implemented,” he said.
The incoming directors should be left with the matter of erecting a plaque to “serve as an enduring reminder of the message we had intended without being rushed and to consider if and how this might be achieved that generates broad public support.”
One woman in the audience encouraged the new board of directors to revisit the idea of erecting a plaque because it will serve as a permanent reminder to future generations of how 5,000 local residents rallied to shut down a project that would have changed Skaha Lake Park and this city for generations to come.
“The beauty of a plaque is that is acts as a marker to remind people that 5,000 people got together ... put their money where their mouth was and stood up and said ‘we don’t want this’,” she said.
Without a plaque, young children today “20 years from now won’t remember a single thing” about the fight to save Skaha Lake Park, she said.
Karr reiterated that outgoing board doesn’t believe a plaque or other permanent reminder shouldn’t be erected in the future, “but this decision shouldn’t be rushed and that’s what’s happening right now.”
The new board now knows there is support for a plaque and they can deal with issues like wording, possible location and size, he said.