Ask Alicia – St. Catharines Cenotaph

Alicia

With Remembrance Day coming up, many people will soon be gathering at War Memorials in St. Catharines. The downtown War Memorial, and surrounding park, is very beautiful.  Do you have any interesting historic information and/or photos related to this Memorial?

Thanks again for all your assistance. Regards,

Dan McKnight

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Memorial Park, St. Catharines Cenotaph. Photo Attribution: Dan McKnight 2016

Excellent idea Dan, thank you.

In 1924 St. Catharines began to follow suit of so many Canadian towns that were erecting commemorative monuments in honour of fallen soldiers who served their country and gave their lives in the Great War (World War I). A committee was formed and they began collecting funds for a memorial through public donation.  They also began selecting a site where the memorial would be raised.  Typically memorials would be placed in prominent locations within a city.  At the time planning commenced, the Q.E.W. highway had not been built so a main travel route through the city was Highway 8. People entered St. Catharines by way of the impressive Burgoyne Bridge.  This was considered a prevalent location within the city, so the land adjacent to the bridge was chosen as home to Memorial Park and the St. Catharines Cenotaph. This was rather fitting since The Merritt House, also known as Oak Hill and currently referred to as “The Whitehouse of Rock”, home to 97.7 HTZ FM and 610 CKTB Radio, had previously been used as a Military Convalescent home for wounded World War One soldiers.

With the site chosen and $18, 000 dollars in funds raised, McIntosh Marble and Granite Company of Toronto was hired to create the monument.

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Blueprint by McIntosh Granite Co. Ltd. 1927/1/12. Photo Attribution: StCM 1994.51.331.2

 

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Front View St. Catharines Cenotaph. Photo Attribution: Dan McKnight

The St. Catharines Cenotaph is comprised of a large column constructed out of brick and granite, mounted atop a concrete plinth, set on terrace level steps. There are various symbolic stone carvings on the monument.  At the very top, front of the column is the St. Catharines crest which faces front, and a maple leaf is on the reverse side.  A Crusader’s sword runs down the front of the column, symbolizing the struggle.  The sword is placed above a grouping of discarded soldier’s equipment, which includes a canteen, pack and helmet, signifying items the soldier no longer needs and the end of a struggle.

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Photo Attribution: Dan McKnight 2016

Text is carved into a scroll-like ornamentation at the base of the column which reads: “THE MEN WERE VERY GOOD UNTO US AND WE WERE NOT HURT, THEY WERE A WALL UNTO US BOTH BY NIGHT AND DAY”. Text on the bottom plinth, set between two carved crosses, reads: “IN MEMORIAM REQVIESCANT IN PACE”, which translates to “Rest in Peace”. Engraved in the sides of the column are the names of World War I battles: St. Julien, 2nd Battle Ypres, Festubert, Cambrai, Mons, Passchendaele, Amiens, Arras, Somme and Vimy.  At the base of each list are the dates 1914-1918.

Originally there had been a large reflecting pool at terrace level in front of the Cenotaph, however it was later removed. Some speculate that this was due to either vandalism or people using it as a wading pool.

The War Memorial was unveiled at a grand ceremony held on August 7th, 1927. Morning

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August 7th, 1927 Unveiling of Cenotaph. Photo Attribution: St. Catharines Museum, 5121-N

church services were held at 10a.m. instead of the usual 11a.m. and were followed by a parade by the Lincoln Regiment. The march began at the armories and ended at Memorial Park where the regiment (under command of Capt. Fred Collins) lined up as an honour guard for Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), who would be attending to perform the wreath laying ceremony. Masses of people gathered in Memorial Park, lining the streets and sidewalks.  Veterans of the war and family members of fallen soldiers were given a special section from which to observe the ceremony.

Limited speeches were given at the ceremony, however Major Hugh Bell, president to the St. Catharines Post of the Canadian Legion spoke to the wearers of the “Silver Cross. “(…) The Legion has pledged itself to keep their memories green, to an abiding loyalty to the King, and to care whenever cause of need exists for those, surviving them, are in our midst today (…) Those who died were our comrades, these this memorial commemorates, gave gladly of their lives, ‘They were a wall unto us both by night and by day.’ On their courage and self-immolation a Canada has been founded, a new people born, and a greater idealism enshrined into the story of humanity.”

A large Union Jack had been hung, blocking the Cenotaph from view of the crowd. W.B.M. King, Commander of the St. Catharines unit first under fire in 1915, was given the honour of unveiling the monument by pulling a cord to release the flag.  The words he spoke just prior to the unveiling were: “To the glory of Almighty God and in memory of the gallant young men from this city.” After the unveiling the Prince lay his wreath at the base of the Cenotaph and although he was short on time, he took a moment to speak with Silver Cross mothers, where many tears were shed. The Prince had been accompanied by a royal party which included: Prince George, British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, and the Rite Honourable Mackenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada.

An article in the St. Catharines Standard published the day after the event described the last moments of the unveiling: “From the rear of the cenotaph came the sound of the pipes. It was the haunting wail of the “Lament” – “The Flowers of the Forest” played by Pipe Major McDonald and Sergeant McDonald, as with measured steps they marched round the memorial. It was a most fitting climax to a beautiful ceremony most appealingly performed.”

It was once said that the Great War was to be the “War to End All Wars”. Unfortunately that was not the case.  The steps that lead up to the Cenotaph now have inscriptions remembering other bloody battles including World War II, Korea and Afghanistan.

Lest We Forget.

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WWI Soldiers. Photo Attribution: Frances Glynn, St. Catharines Museum 2002.132.5

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