Dozens of people turned out to the Whalley Legion on May 23 to witness the groundbreaking ceremony for the $312-million Legion Veterans Village. The project will begin construction in June. (Photo: Amy Reid)

Whalley

Surrey Veterans Village groundbreaking ‘monumental’

$312-million project to house Canada’s first ‘centre of excellence’ for PTSD and mental health

When Tony Moore describes the groundbreaking for the Legion Veterans Village Project in Whalley as “monumental,” you can take that literally.

Next month, construction will begin on the $312-million project, which will feature two towers that emulate the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France.

Veterans and Legion members, local MPs, members of Surrey city council, MLAs and other dignitaries were on hand for a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday (May 23) to celebrate with a parade march by veterans and community groups, and speeches.

“It’s really fantastic,” said Moore, president of Whalley Legion Branch 229, of the project.

“It’s a monumental event for us.”

The project, initiated by the Royal Canadian Legion BC/Yukon Command, Whalley Legion Branch 229 and the Lark Group, will house Canada’s first “centre of excellence,” treating veterans and first responders with a focus on post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health, as well as the Whalley Legion, which has been operating since 1947 and has been at this particular location, at 13525 106th Ave., since 1960.

“At the time it was the biggest Legion hall in all of the Lower Mainland, the most modern,” Moore noted.

Today, the Whalley branch has roughly 700 members.

“We used to have a lot more.”

At the groundbreaking, Surrey-Whalley MLA Bruce Ralston praised the Veterans Village project, saying he predicts the facility “will be a beacon for British Columbia and Canada for how a modern legion works, and how it can genuinely serve the community.”

Surrey Centre MP Randeep Sarai echoed that, saying the site “symbolizes the future potential of what a modern legion can be.”

Surrey Councillor and acting mayor Laurie Guerra said the city is “honoured to be the site of Canada’s first centre of excellence for veterans and first responders.”

Guerra said the facility will “not only be transformative in the lives of our veterans and first responders, but the striking building will be a landmark, truly a landmark, in Surrey’s skyline.”

READ ALSO: Legion Veterans Village for Surrey unveiled

READ ALSO: Legion tweaks plans for Surrey’s Veterans Village

READ ALSO: Surrey’s Veterans Village, by design

homelessphoto

(Rendering of the planned Legions Veterans Village. Submitted photo)

Construction on the multi-million dollar project, which will also feature an “Innovation Centre for Rehabilitation” will be done in two phases.

It will feature a 20-storey and 26-storey building, with the first phase slated to be finished by early 2022.

Moreover, the development will have 148 market housing units, more than 48 “affordable housing units,” and also offer temporary transitional and “crisis” housing for veterans and their families, as well as others in the community.

The second phase will see construction of the 26-storey building, with 325 market housing units.

Rowena Rizzotti is the project’s lead, and vice-president of health care and innovations for the Lark Group.

She described Thursday’s groundbreaking as “extraordinarily important.”

“This was a vision that was created five years ago by a group of individuals who saw the need to do something that contributed to the lives and well-being of veterans, and who saw that the Whalley Legion branch had an asset in its land-base,” she told the Now-Leader.

“There was an opportunity here to create something magnificent out of this asset.”

Rizzotti called it a “beacon of hope for future veterans, first responders and those who suffer from the outcomes of war and trauma like PTSD and other mental health challenges.”

Designs were revised over the years, toggling between one and two towers.

The monumental twin-tower complex’s first look featured bright vertical fields of red poppies reaching high into the sky, adorning the facade of Canada’s first Veterans Village.

This was swapped out in 2017 for a one-tower design, but now it’s back to two towers.

The current design is by Neil Banich of Wensley Architecture Ltd.

Rizzotti said it was important to emulate “that Vimy Ridge essence, which is why we were thrilled there was a significant element of market housing that was able to be added to the project because it gives the elevation and allowed for that dramatic image to emerge from it.

“We’re really thrilled they did such a great job in replicating as close to Vimy Ridge as possible.”

The Canadian war memorial in France, designed by Walter Seymour Allward, is dedicated to the memory of Canadian soldiers killed in the First World War.

READ ALSO: Veterans Village project approved by Surrey council

SEE MORE: Whalley Legion finds new, temporary home as ‘Veterans Village’ built in Surrey

A 10,500-square-foot legion hall will be incorporated into the first floor.

“It was the very first space that was mapped out, so they will have a brand-new over 10,000-square-foot new legion facility that will incorporate all of their Legion operations and activities, as well as opportunity for them to generate revenue through coffee shops and other things like that,” Rizzotti told the Now-Leader. ”They’re looking to re-create what their future will be.”

Meantime, the Whalley’s branch’s temporary home is in a former Japanese restaurant across from the Ukrainian church down the street. The Legion vacated its old digs on April 21.

“It’s been all completely renovated, their sign is up,” Rizzotti said of the Whalley branch’s temporary home.

SEE VIDEO: Surrey veteran recalls fight to have Remembrance Day recognized

homelessphoto

(Whalley Legion Remembrance Day ceremony 1964. Surrey Archives photo)



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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