David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Saving Our War Memorials

Brandon Sun, November 7, 2009 - David McConkey

Any day, not just Remembrance Day, is a time to notice again the war memorials in our communities. These often-overlooked links to our past invite reflection on citizenship, war, and peace.

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the First World War, we also can look at enhancing the visibility and meaning of these memorials for today.

Here are three suggestions for citizens and communities:

1)  TAKE NOTE

Start by taking note of the memorials in our midst. Most were erected after the First World War.

It is hard for us to imagine the sacrifice of Canadians in that war. With a population of only 8 million, more than 600,000 served in the armed forces. The toll was great: not only the 66,000 dead, but also the wounded – both physically and mentally.

An indication of the local impact: during the war, the population of Brandon dropped from 17,000 to 14,000.

Understand 66,000 war dead? We can’t, really. But we can get some idea by visiting a community war memorial.

Memorials are commonly monuments (also called cenotaphs), and as well can be plaques, parks, and names of streets or buildings.

Communities can make these memorials more visible on maps, websites, points of interest, and guides for visitors. Memorials can be part of heritage walking tours and even fitness and recreational trails.

The Cross of Sacrifice in the Brandon Cemetery, for example, is noted in the “What Lies Beneath” cemetery online walking tour. The monument is also on the route of the annual “Gossip in the Graveyard” theatre production.

As well as the old memorials, note newer ones, such as the Brandon Internment Camp plaque. It is in memory of the Ukrainian Canadians and others who were “unjustly imprisoned as enemy aliens” during the First World War. They were locked up in the old Exhibition Building at Tenth and Victoria.

The internment camp plaque was placed outside city hall in 1997.

2)  MARK 100

In just a few years, we will be at the centennial of the First World War. Communities can mark 100 years by updating and upgrading old memorials. To the original monuments, many communities have added inscriptions for subsequent events including the Second World War, Korean War, NATO missions, United Nations missions, peacekeeping, and the Afghanistan War.

The memorials themselves can be restored and the settings highlighted by enhanced landscaping.

As well, why not mark the centennial with the construction of new memorials, perhaps in the form of parks or other facilities?

Plan ahead, though. We don’t want to see a repeat of the saga of the Kinsmen Memorial Stadium at Brandon University. That baseball park was built as a memorial after the Second World War. But it was recently torn down to make way for expansion at the university.

One way to mark the 100th anniversary could be to revive the “Roads of Remembrance” concept, developed after the First World War.

A number of these tree-lined streets were created as living memorials. Over the years, however, many faded as trees succumbed to disease, age, and new development.

In Winnipeg, one can still see some of these trees along Chancellor Matheson Road leading to the University of Manitoba.

The only completely intact “Road” is in Saskatoon. The original 1923 planting was of 226 elms, one for each of the city’s war dead. Since then, trees that died were replaced by new ones, and the project has been expanded to more than 1,200 trees.

We could plant new versions of the “Roads of Remembrance.” Today, like after the First World War, living trees can be an appropriate way of honouring war dead, as well as providing a legacy for the future.

3)  RECOGNIZE CITIZENSHIP

One place to appreciate the power of community war memorials is in the village of Oak Lake. Step onto the grounds of the Royal Canadian Legion. Pause at the memorial erected after the First World War. Walk around and contemplate a wall erected in 2004.
 
Inscribed on the wall are the names of everyone from Oak Lake who served in wartime. From the Northwest Rebellion in the 1880s to peacekeeping today.

Hundreds and hundreds of names. A remarkable commitment from just one small Manitoba community.

Overhead, the flags flying are of Canada, our allies, and the United Nations.

We can maintain and invigorate that sense of citizenship and global responsibility for the 21st century.

Today’s demands are huge: new conflict, peacekeeping, environmental damage, needs for international development.

We can doubt whether Canada has the resources to tackle great global challenges. But by doubting, do we forget how much Canadians sacrificed in the past, like in the First World War?

* * * *
See also:  

Earlier Column:  Community Memorials a Link to the Great War

Pictures of War Memorials

War and Remembrance

Canadians Must Maintain a Higher Standard in War

Driving Tour of Brandon Finds Historic Places

 



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David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
204-726-9440
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