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

The Ongoing Task of Remembrance

Brandon Sun, November 7, 2016 - David McConkey

To contemplate the impact of war – especially the First Word War – visit the war memorial in a Manitoba town or village. Look at the monument itself. Read the names. Reflect on the numbers of those who died in the Great War a century ago: like Alexander – 18, Hamiota – 57, Virden – 70, Neepawa – 122. 

Over the years, Brandon has struggled with remembrance.
What should we remember? The overall war effort? Those who died? Those caught up in the war, like family members, others in the community, or even those who spoke out against war? What about a monument to peace?
How should we remember? This turned out to be difficult. After the First Word War, various proposals were made for a memorial in Brandon. But every idea – like a library or a towering obelisk – could not produce agreement or a commitment of money.
The Great War veterans became frustrated. In May 1924, the Brandon Daily Sun reported that the veterans “despaired of any action being taken by a memorial committee that has taken five years to do nothing.”

So, the veterans went ahead on their own. They purchased a Cross of Sacrifice to serve as Brandon’s war memorial. The veterans then launched a campaign challenging the community to raise the required $5,000. 

The fundraising appeal was successful; in the fall of 1924 the Cross was installed in the cemetery. What about identifying the war dead? “No names will be placed on the Cross,” the Sun reported. It had been “definitely determined” that there was “no accurate list of those who made the supreme sacrifice.”
In the years since, there was an undercurrent of feeling in Brandon that more should have been done to remember the Great War.
But perhaps more had been done? Had not remembrance trees been planted along Victoria Avenue?

“The City of Brandon,” the Sun reported in June 2014, “plans to rededicate the trees along Victoria Avenue to local soldiers who fought in the First World War.” Mayor Sheri Decter Hirst explained why this should be regarded as a “rededication.” That there were trees on Victoria Avenue honouring the war, the mayor said, was “a deeply held belief within the community.”  
But Great War remembrance trees were a Brandon myth. There is no record of trees on Victoria Avenue being dedicated after the 1914 war. And there was no “rededication” of trees in 2014.

One long-standing wish in the community, though, has been recently fulfilled. This was the thought that Brandon should have a centrally located memorial in addition to the Cross of Sacrifice in the cemetery. Two new monuments are on Victoria Avenue between 10th and 11th streets.  

What about the future? The goal of planting and dedicating trees could be revived. Perhaps this notion would have even more resonance today.
Another community aspiration could also be realized: a memorial listing all the names of Brandon’s war dead. New research is establishing the “accurate list” that could not be compiled previously. (For information: the 26th Field Regiment RCA / XII Manitoba Dragoons Museum at the Brandon Armoury; 204-717-4579.)

One of those names is Major Joseph McLaren. In 1914, McLaren was working as the drill instructor in Brandon schools. The popular 32-year-old lived at 641 Lorne Ave., in a residence known as the “Brandon Bachelors’ Club.” McLaren enlisted when the war started; he was killed at Ypres seven months later.

McLaren was the second Brandonite to die in the war. McLaren was greatly respected and the community wanted him remembered. In May 1915, 1,000 people attended a ceremony at Rideau Park, where a tree was planted in his memory. Another tree was planted at the Brandon Normal School. The school division named a school after McLaren.
But even a strong memory made can eventually fade. Today, there are no McLaren trees; there is no McLaren School. (On the former school at 1031 Sixth St., now the school division offices, however, you can still see the name “McLaren.”)   

Finally, what about a monument to peace? Many will be surprised to learn that Brandon already has one – the Labyrinth of Peace. Brandon University created the Labyrinth in 2002 after two years of research and fundraising. It is near the Riverbank Discovery Centre, just off Kirkcaldy Dr. Unfortunately, the Labyrinth of Peace is not only almost unknown, it also has fallen into disrepair.

Remember war? Reflect on peace? For citizens of Brandon, this is an ongoing task.

* * * *
See also: 

Reflections on the Great War 

Francis Marion Beynon: Compelling Story of a Manitoba Suffragist, Pacifist

Remembering Nellie McClung

Community Memorials a Link to the Great War



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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