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Council defers funding request, putting Legion's planned monument on shaky ground

'If the grants aren't approved, there may not be a monument, and that's a shame considering, to me, this is a very important historical part of Orillia,' says Legion official
2018-10-15 Rick Purcell remembrance
Rick Purcell, president of the Royal Canadian Legion in Orillia, is shown with some of the artifacts on display at the Legion. Nathan Taylor/OrilliaMatters file photo

To commemorate the 1943 Fairmile boat explosion in downtown Orillia, the Royal Canadian Legion is seeking $5,000 from the city to help fund a monument in Veterans’ Memorial Park.

On Oct. 13, 1943, Hunter Boats workers discovered that gas was leaking from the Fairmile boat they had been working on and, within minutes, the ensuing explosion killed 16-year-old electrician’s assistant and air cadet Stanley Peacock, while also seriously injuring six others.

Quick work carried out by the Orillia Fire Department prevented the explosion’s fires from spreading throughout the downtown, resulting in two Orillia firefighters receiving the King George VI Police and Fire Services Medals for Gallantry. Only 10 such medals have been awarded in Canada.

Rick Purcell, the president of Orillia’s Legion branch, is hoping to see the monument erected in time for the explosion’s anniversary on Oct. 13.

“(A brother and sister) of Stan Peacock are still alive, and two daughters of the gentleman that owned Hunter Boats (are still alive),” Purcell told OrilliaMatters. “They would like to see some recognition for Hunter Boats, and the Peacock (siblings) would like to see some recognition for their brother, who was killed.”

On Monday evening, council opted to defer a decision on granting the funding to May 16, citing concerns about the amount of the request and a lack of information on the monument.

The city’s grants committee has a $1,500 cap for this type of grant. As a result, the committee recommended to council that the remaining $3,500 be sourced from the city’s tax rate stabilization reserve.

Some members of council were concerned about setting a precedent for future funding requests.

“You can’t hide behind the fact that we’re setting a precedent by their recommendation being funded from another pool of money,” said Coun. Ted Emond. “It’s precedent setting. They could recommend any other grant that comes to them be above and beyond the amount they have available to them.”

Coun. Tim Lauer said there is not enough information about the project to make an informed decision as of yet.

“I see no description of what this monument entails,” he said. “Usually, these things come to council in the form of a report with all that information.”

“I know in the past, we’ve been warned about ‘over-monumenting’ our parks, that we’re getting, in some cases, too many things going on in our parks,” he said. “We have a master plan for that park. Does it fit in with that plan?”

Purcell said the explosion is an important piece of Orillia history, stressing it deserves to be commemorated with a monument.

The Fairmiles constructed by Hunter Boats were used by the Canadian Navy in the Second World War, Purcell said, adding the 99 Lynx Squadron Air Cadets, of which Peacock was a member, is still in operation today.

“I don't think anywhere in the city there’s a monument that says anything about World War 2, other than people that died (in service),” Purcell told OrilliaMatters. “Historically, we’ve helped with World War 2, a serving air cadet of Orillia died, and the fire department of Orillia got recognized. I think this is a tremendous story for Orillia.”

Purcell said the monument will include three sections, commemorating Peacock, the fire department, and Hunter Boats for their contributions to the war, and that it will be less than five feet tall.

He estimates the project will cost around $10,000, and stressed the need for funding, on top of the Legion's contributions, to see the project go through.

The Legion has requested funding from the Royal Canadian Air Force Association and the Air Cadet League, as well. Purcell said the Legion would also be happy to accept donations from the public.

“If the grants aren’t approved, there may not be a monument, and that’s a shame considering, to me, this is a very important historical part of Orillia,” he said.