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Canadians Sought to Care for WWI Statue in Hell's Kitchen Park

By Mathew Katz | October 18, 2012 8:29am

HELL'S KITCHEN — Call in the Canucks.

Gardeners trying to revive the fortunes of the oft-neglected DeWitt Clinton Park are searching for Canadians to take care of a statue commemorating soldiers killed during World War I.

The "doughboy" statue of a soldier is engraved with the words of the famous Canadian war poem "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae, which commemorates the thousands of soldiers killed on the fields on Belgium during World War I.

The poem is ubiquitous in Canada, where many wear red poppy pins every year around Remembrance Day on Nov. 11 — the Canadian equivalent of Veteran's Day.

"It’s kind of a special little Canadian thing," said David Winterton, who grew up in Woodstock, Ontario, and is in the midst of organizing volunteers to clean up the park as a whole.

"I grew up being traumatized every Rememberance Day with all the stories, but it's important."

The memorial statue was originally commissioned by the Clinton District Association as a tribute to men from the area who died during WWI. It was made by sculptor Burt W. Johnson and Harvey Wiley Corbett, and officially dedicated on Nov. 11, 1929.

Winterton said the southeast end of the park at West 52nd Street and 11th Avenue where the statue sits is overgrown and rarely gets care apart from an annual wreath-laying ceremony around Memorial Day run by Flanders House, a Belgian society in New York. On Wednesday, the statue was surrounded by brown, dead plants along with several bags of trash.

"If they can take ownership of it once a year, the Canadians can do their part to keep it tidy and respect the poem," Winterton said.

Nicolas Polet, a policy officer at Flanders House, said his organization only tends to the statue once a year and that it is hoping to work with the Parks Department and any willing Canadians to better take care of the memorial, especially with the centennial of the start of World War I coming in 2014.

"We always have Canadian attendance at the ceremony," he said. "It would be a pleasure to have them."

He hopes to find someone to adopt it for seasonal upkeep — removing litter, pruning plants and more — four to six times a season.

In his search for volunteers, Winter enlisted the help of the Canadian Association of New York, which invited its members to visit the statue this Saturday, Oct. 20, which is the Parks Department's "It's My Park Day."

Winterton said he's already received a handful of replies, and he hopes to recruit several permanent volunteers from the Great White North.

"I wanted to reach out to the Canadian Association to see if they could do anything besides hockey. It would be a good time for them to do community outreach," he explained.

"Having an ongoing volunteer that isn't hockey-related and is giving back to New York City would really be good for us."