The cross on Mount Tzouhalem has been cut down.
The white steel cross that has overlooked the Cowichan from a cliff on the mountain since the late 1980s was removed by unknown individuals sometime overnight between Friday, July 16 and Saturday, July 17.
The cross was cut off near the base, leaving a few centimetres of steel protruding from the cement base. It appeared to have been sheared off with a grinder or other power tool.
No one has claimed responsibility for cutting the cross down, but discussion on social media has raised the possibility that it was cut down in reaction to the recent discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential school sites, including at Penelakut Island, off the coast of Chemainus.
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring didn’t want to jump to conclusions, but he acknowledged the possibility that the destruction of the cross was related to the discoveries. Nearly all of the residential schools in Canada were run by churches.
“It’s so disturbing,” Siebring said. “If this was random vandalism, it’s bad. If it wasn’t random and it’s connected to [the residential school issue], to me, that’s worse.”
Siebring pointed to a statement released by the leaders of nine Victoria-area First Nations earlier this month after the toppling of a statue of Captain James Cook Victoria led to the burning of a totem pole at the Malahat Summit.
Such acts only serve to make the situation worse, the chiefs said.
“They fuel hate and inhibit the healing that is so deeply needed right now,” the statement read. “The disrespectful and damaging acts we have seen are not helping. They are perpetuating hurt, hate and divide.”
Siebring knows the harm done by residential schools needs to be addressed, but he doesn’t want to see that done through vandalism and destruction.
“That is not how we as a society should be dealing with our past,” he said. “We need to respect each other and find ways to get along.
The steel cross has been a fixture on Mount Tzouhalem since the late 1980s when it replaced a wooden cross that was erected in 1976. The metal cross fell during a windstorm in fall 2014, but was recovered and repaired and returned to its location in January 2015.
Some voices on social media have already called for the cross to be replaced by a totem pole, which would have more of a connection to the Valley’s First Nations people.
The cross was located within the Chase Woods Nature Preserve on land owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada. The Citizen has reached out to that organization for comment.