By Carol Martin
Friday, June 17, 2011
It appeared that most in attendance were against the idea.
Ward 1 Councillor Steve Butland, who chaired the meeting, had difficulty keeping order in the meeting.
At times, when speakers raised points against the grotto, many applauded and cheered.
Sometimes when speakers raised points for it, people groaned and jeered.
Many of the speakers expressed strong criticism of City Council, saying it approved the grotto without adequate consultation.
The meeting began with a presentation by Frank Sarlo Sr., retired lawyer and principal proponent of the grotto project (shown with Butland).
Sarlo talked about his positive experiences visiting grottos dedicated to the Virgin Mary in other countries and his desire to both bring those experiences home to share with Saultites, offering members of his community a chance to tell their own story to the world.
"I decided that I would go to people that I respected and I wanted their opinions on what it looked like," said Sarlo.
"I went to people that I knew to be passionate about our City and people that had done community work for a great many years - people like Peter Vaudry who is not Catholic - and talked to him about the importance of having a place like that," he said. "He's been working in cancer care most of his life. [He knows] how important it is to have something like that in a park setting."
Sarlo said he formed a board of directors consisting of himself, Orlando Rosa and Dr. Lou Lukenda.
The board in turn obtained charitable status from the Government of Ontario and has raised about $500,000 so far for construction and maintenance of the grotto.
Sarlo said the grotto is to be his board's gift to the Sault - for everyone to partake of its joy, comfort and peace.
Many in the City Council chambers disagreed that the the grotto would be for everyone.
"My father was Hugh Hanlan," said Brenda Hanlan-Davies. "He was superintendent of parks from the early forties to the early seventies and was probably the driving force behind developing both Topsail and Prince Island. Even though the grotto was not intended to discriminate, by highlighting the one religion, other people who do not share those beliefs may feel excluded.... The proposed development will exclude those who do not share the Catholic faith."
Hanlan-Davies said that Sault Ste. Marie was founded on the principles of inclusion and acceptance.
But this grotto, if built, would make people of other faiths feel unwelcome in our public park.
"I can tell you one of my father's finest beliefs was that Bellevue Park should remain open to everyone, everyone should feel comfortable there and it should not be commercialized under any circumstances," she said.
Hanlan-Davies said she didn't believe the developers of the proposed grotto had completely thought through the consequences of their development.
The grotto could exclude some and cause division based on religion and culture, she said.
"Sault Ste. Marie was the target of public criticism a few years ago over the issue of French language. I'm afraid that, when the national media finds out about this, Sault Ste. Marie will become a target for criticism and ridicule. We will be painted as bigots and racists."
She argued that Canada, as a multicultural mosaic, should celebrate all cultures equally and make no one feel unwelcome in our public spaces.
"Does this not make people of other cultures feel unwelcome in Bellevue Park?" she asked. "I know it would make me feel that way."
Jennifer Rowe, a pagan, said she would feel unwelcome in the park with the grotto there.
Rowe said Sarlo's continued reference to the Anishinaabe in the past tense was disrespectful.
She said the teachings of Midewiwin are very much alive and well.
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