If the Forever in the Clouds monument is to be in Estevan, then it won’t be located on the lawn of the Estevan Courthouse.
The committee responsible for the monument has been informed that their application to use the courthouse’s east lawn has been denied by the provincial Ministry of Central Services. The monument pays tribute to the 20 pilots and the one grounndcrewman who were killed in a plane crash at the former Estevan Airport site south of the city on Sept. 15, 1946.
The monument, carved by Alberta chainsaw sculptor Darren Jones from a 500-year-old Douglas fir tree, arrived in Estevan last September, and was dedicated during a ceremony at the Estevan Regional Airport a few days later as part of the Living Skies Airshow. It has been at the airport ever since.
Lester Hinzman said there are people from Estevan and Moose Jaw who have been lobbying for the monument to be on the courthouse lawn.
Hinzman said he was informed of the ministry’s decision through a letter addressed to Mayor Roy Ludwig. Ludwig informed Hinzman once he received the letter.
Hinzman said he was disappointed by the ministry’s decision.
“These men fought for this country,” said Hinzman. “They were well-decorated men. They died here in Estevan after making it back from the war. The youngest member was 20 years old. His decommission papers were waiting for him, and he never got back to them.”
They made it back to Canada following the Second World War, but they never made it back to their families.
Richard Murray, the deputy minister for Central Services, said the discussions to use the courthouse property also included the Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice, since the courthouse is on the property.
“A panel was struck that included an independent representative from the legal profession, an architect, the past-president of the Saskatchewan Association of Architects,” said Murray. “The panel considered the request, and they ultimately decided that the statue was not suitable for the courthouse property.”
Murray said there were safety concerns, since the monument is a 17-foot high structure, and it is made of wood, so it will deteriorate over time.
“The addition of more statuary and structures detracts from the appearance and the architectural design of the courthouse,” said Murray.
When the Soldiers’ Tree Monument was approved for the lawn a couple of years ago, the ministry thought the lawn was a good location. But the panel is concerned with having too many structures.
Estevan’s cenotaph is located next to the Soldiers’ Tree. A coal car memorial, which is a tribute to the victims of the Estevan Riot of 1929, is on the lawn’s northeast corner.
Murray added there are a lot of young people who use the courthouse lawn for recreation activities during the summer months. But Hinzman counters the lawn is spacious and there is enough room out there to add one more monument.
“It’s spacious and it’s a green spot,” said Hinzman.
Hinzman said he doesn’t see much of a difference between the Soldiers’ Tree monument and Forever in the Clouds.
“They’re both about our fighting men, men that gave it all to their country,” said Hinzman.
The one difference, Hinzman said, is Forever in the Clouds is more of an Estevan story, because the 21 men died in Estevan. The Soldiers’ Tree monument is more of a tribute to Canada’s military history, although there are local touches in the Soldiers’ Tree.
Murray said the courthouse staff is keeping a close eye on the Soldiers’ Tree monument regarding any possible safety issues, because it’s also carved from wood. There’s the potential for safety concerns for any wooden structure.
“It has to be maintained and well looked after,” said Murray. “This one (Forever in the Clouds) is perhaps even larger than that one (the Soldiers’ Tree), and over on the other side of the property, it’s a little more exposed as well, out in a little bit more of an open area, and more likely to be a safety concern.”
There is a group in the community that is against the Forever in the Clouds project, Hinzman said, but Murray said the ministry did not receive any opposition.
The City of Estevan and the Estevan Chamber of Commerce have supported the project. He has met with Estevan MLA Lori Carr, and there was a meeting with the Ministry of Central Services early on in the process, but Hinzman said the two sides haven’t met recently.
A potential alternate location for the monument has not been determined, but if it can’t be in Estevan, then Hinzman said it might have to go to Moose Jaw. The Royal Canadian Air Force’s 15-Wing air force base is located in that city, and people in the air force have helped out immensely by supplying photos.
But Forever in the Clouds is an Estevan story, and Hinzman said it should be here.
Hinzman said he is looking to start a petition to get the monument at the east end of the courthouse lawn.
“For 70 years, these men were basically forgotten,” said Hinzman. “I grew up in this town. My father was a veteran. We never heard of these men, until we happened to stumble across it a couple of years ago, quite by accident, and it was an old Mercury report that Doug Gent had found.”
Once it is complete, Forever in the Clouds will feature the faces of the 21 men killed in the 1946 plane crash. Jones has carved 17 faces already, and two more will be added later. The committee for Forever in the Clouds is still looking for the other two faces, Clifford Sommerville Coppin and Vitantos Luke Kirko.
A plane is carved into the top of the monument.