Protesters gathered in Officers’ Square on Sept. 6 to show their anger and grief at the loss of eleven of the park’s historic trees.
Peter Pacey, founder of the Calithumpians, waves a white washcloth to the crowd gathered to show support for the Save Officers’ Square (S.O.S.) Rally. It’s his surrender to the City of Fredericton.
“[The city council] has won this round very underhandedly,” he said.
The Calithumpians are a local theatre group, who have performed plays about Fredericton’s heritage and history at the base of one of Officers’ Square’s trees since 1981. Over 600 young actors have performed on the Officer’s Square stage over the last 40 years.
“We are thankful to the city and public for supporting [us] over the past few years,” Pacey said.
On Tuesday, Sept. 2, the beloved Calithumpian tree was chopped down as a part of the revitalization plan for Officers’ Square, including the construction of a skating oval.
Calithumpians, new and old, gathered for a memorial service for their tree and stage the following day.
Pacey was unable to make it to the memorial service because he had tests in Saint John. Pacey is just three months out of cancer treatment. He tells the crowd that he feels the city is trying to kick him while he is down.
“But I’m not down for good, I’m coming back!” he said, reassuring his supporters.
He says that the Calithumpians will continue to serve the public by continuing to talk about heritage and environmental issues.
It is not just the tree that the Calithumpians had lost, but their stage might too be in the wood chipper.
Pacey struggled to get in contact with the City to find out what happened to his stage. It was only on the day of the rally he was told to contact Dylan Gamble, head of engineering.
“Dylan if you’re out there, we want our stage back. I hope you didn’t destroy it, but my worst fear is they chopped it up like they did the tree,” Pacey said.
The Calithumpian tree was not the only concern of the S.O.S. Committee. Jason Jeadron, a spokesperson for the committee, spoke of the heritage of Officers’ Square. That park is a national historic military compound and Wolastoqiyik site, and is a protected provincial heritage site as both the military compound and Officers’ Square specifically.
To build the skating oval, the ground of the park would be excavated a metre down, potentially disrupting the history of the site.
Christy Rust, the founder of the S.O.S. Committee, states that they are not against development, but that this is about protecting and preserving a national historic site.
Beth Biggs, another spokesperson for the committee, expressed that they feel they have not received consultation in the manner deserving of the issue.
The Calithumpians performed three songs, notably their rewrite of Toni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” changing the lyrics from “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot” to “paving stone paradise to put in a skating rink.”
Then the microphone was opened up to the public to say a few words and share personal stories about the Square, and concerns about the construction.
The trees are now gone and the wall is slated to go after Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival. Biggs encouraged the crowd telling them that this is only strike one and to “keep fighting, still a ton of heritage here, so please keep going.”