Who is responsible for the sandblasting, damage and repair of the circa 1929 Vespra Boys cenotaph at Springwater Park – Camp Nibi?

I took these photographs on Friday October 11, 2013. This monument had never been sand blasted in its 84 year history.

Back 34 cropped

Note the broken corner of the cairn main pedestal at the front right.

The Vespra Boys is made up of three very different materials: granite field stones, concrete mortar and marble.

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Another view with the broken urn base at the left back. The MNR-owned heritage-designated building in the back is the original park office.

Each material has it’s own much different properties such as porosity, hardness, strength, etc.

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Detail of broken urn base.

One of the key heritage preservation principles is to try to do no harm. Start with the mildest, least destructive means to the stated, justifiable end.

Back marble sign

Note how the years of patina soak so deeply in the mortar. To get a consistent “new look” the mortar would have to be blasted up to one inch deep.

I was told that the Ministry of Natural Resources considers any of their buildings that are over 50 years old to be “heritage” and extreme caution must be taken. I do not know if those standards apply to community cultural assets that they have legal stewardship for.

Face marble no relief

Front: The softest material (white marble) is easily destroyed with silica sand. The text is almost unreadable now. The contrast between the 3 media is lost. Many of the stones have horizontal etch marks now. Note how the light orange, protective patina has been destroyed. When marble is polished it changes the physical properties of its surface. By sand lasting the raised and relief areas, the contrast is lost. The sharpness of the relief lettering is much less.

Over the years, objects as well as people acquire character. Patina is a much-valued characteristic by many people that appreciate things that have endured. In stone, sand blasting destroys this highly-prized protective layer; the earned look and feel of a well-worn artifact. The cold-hard facts are that etched monuments will likely have more structural problems in the future than if it were more gently treated. The Ontario Heritage Trust talks of The Conservation Cycle.

NICMM 3

The before picture: In 2013, Major John R. Fisher took these photographs in support of the registration to the Department of Defence of the Vespra Boys cairn. There are less than 6,700 of these nationally-registered war memorials in Canada in 2013. It’s magnificent as it was and precisely how the builders envisioned it in 1929, I believe. Note the irregular patina that is appropriate for its age and nature and the sharpness of the relief edges.

Sand blasting is known to radically alter the appearance, life and strength of materials. it is the most aggressive form of abrasive cleaning and is usually the last method used.

Front cross

The after picture: The field stone/mortar joints have been opened up for water to freeze and thaw. There are only surface cracks evident over the whole monument. There is no safety issue. The symbol may indicate the builders’ were concerned in pleasing an entity other then their own ego.

Silica sand appears to be the material used against the Vespra Boys centotaph. There are chips of mortar and stone all over the grass.

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There are different grades of silica sand available. The most destructive are the cheapest. There are bits and pieces of stones, mortar and sand 2 to 3 metres away from the cairn.

Sand blasting is classified as a form of abrasive blasting.

Abrasive blasting is the operation of forcibly propelling a stream of abrasive material against a surface under high pressure to smooth a rough surface, roughen a smooth surface, shape a surface, or remove surface contaminants. A pressurized fluid, typically air, or a centrifugal wheel is used to propel the blasting material (often called the media). The first abrasive blasting process was patented by Benjamin Chew Tilghman on 18 October 1870.

There are several variants of the process, such as bead blasting, sand blasting, sodablasting, and shot blasting.

Background: At a meeting at the site arranged by Ontario Parks Zone Manager Mr. Ken Lacroix this summer, I opposed the use of chemicals being applied and then having it power blasted with high pressure water. This elicited a very strong reaction by a representative of Ian Taylor’s, Friends of Springwater Park. I was not informed of any plans to alter the monument although I take Minister David Orazietti at his word when he said he appreciates my interest in the park.

Mr. Taylor appears to be taking credit for this “restoration” project on his Facebook page (see Sept 29th). He also thanks his good friends Patrick Brown Barrie MP, Ms. Nancy Bigelow, Ken Lacroix, Park Superintendent Scott Thomas,  Monument Restoration Ltd., Barrie Legion 147 and Elmvale Legion 262.

CFB Borden, the Department of National Defence, Springwater Township and City Barrie Heritage Committees, Camp Nibi grandmothers/occupiers or the families of the 18 WWI dead appear not to have been consulted, accommodated or included in his thanks.

I have asked the Ministry of Natural Resources to secure the site and not allow any further work until more is known about some may consider a pre-meditated assault on heritage on what is claimed to be protected Ontario land.

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4 Responses to Who is responsible for the sandblasting, damage and repair of the circa 1929 Vespra Boys cenotaph at Springwater Park – Camp Nibi?

  1. Charles says:

    It looks good. Why do you hate so much? I’m happy with the work the NMR are doing. I think the people illegally squating at the park will be angry with the mnr no matter what they do though.

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  2. Darwin says:

    In spite of the perception that stone and mortar are indestructible materials, such is not the case. As pointed out above, these materials all have varying physical properties that together form a complex assemblage.

    I would hope that a full assessment of the condition of the monument, along with a detailed treatment plan, were developed prior to any work taking place. Sadly, this is probably not the case.

    The old fashioned get-er-done approach to restoration of masonry has been “sandblasting”. Blasting with silica is highly aggressive, and more often than not causes damage to the substrate. While an improved appearance may be gained in the short term, the consequence of such an invasive approach can be accelerated deterioration. This is not to say that media blasting has no place in this type of work, but there are many less aggressive materials than silica which may be employed.

    As with most projects of this nature, I’m sure it started with the best of intentions. Unfortunately it is not always as easy and straight forward as it may seem, and once the damage is done there is usually no going back.

    I would hope that all work on the monument is based on a proper preservation plan, including a maintenance plan, that is sensitive to the materials and heritage integrity of the monument. There are resources and guidelines available to assist with this work, including Landscapes of Memories: Guide for Conserving Historic Cemeteries by Tamara Anson-Cartwright, and the Appleton Charter for the Protection and Enhancement of the Built Environment by ICOMOS Canada.

    This is a locally significant public monument that deserves the best possible care, and I hope that the ground work for long term care has, or is, being properly prepared.
    In closing, it is important to consider that preservation and ‘good looks’ are not always synonymous.

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  3. Darcy says:

    whats the name of the company that did this work? who gave the order to do the work? what are they going to do to fix this mess? and hold the company responsible to repair or replace the damage.so they will not be doing any other work on any other historical sites.

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  4. Darcy says:

    Monuments restoration Ltd. from Barrie Ontario is restoring this Cenotaph. What is there answer to this damage?

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