Remembrance Day 2017

I’ve been thinking a lot about commemoration lately, especially in the light of recent discussions on appropriate people/subjects for names of buildings and organizations, for plaques and for statues. It seems to me that commemoration is more about the people who are doing it, rather than the people or events being recognized. With November 11 coming up, this line of thought got me looking at how commemoration and Remembrance Day started after the end of the Great War.

The first war memorial in Alberta was in Beverly. According to historian Lawrence Herzog, the Town of Beverly (population of about 1,000) had 170 men serve in the war, of which 27 died in action. When the war was over, local veterans founded the Beverly Veteran’s Association and started fundraising for a memorial. The Beverly Cenotaph was completed in October, 1920. Located at the corner of 118 Avenue and 40 Street, the newly restored Beverly Memorial Cenotaph Park will be the site of a Remembrance Day ceremony.

EA-160-193 Beverly Memorial Unveiling October 17, 1920
EA-160-336 Beverly Memorial Service November 1, 1938

Edmonton took longer to build a memorial and the delay was painful to some as expressed in the 1934 letter below from the Chair of the Citizens’ Cenotaph Committee to the Mayor. You can feel the urgency in the letter’s tone.

1935 letter from the Citizens’ Cenotaph Committee to Mayor Joseph Clark. RG-11/Series 8/File 28

The Committee raised almost $9,000 in the middle of the Depression and Edmonton’s Cenotaph was unveiled in August, 1936. I found a September 17, 1936 letter to the City from the Committee listing the final amount for the cenotaph as $8,995.78.

Edmonton’s cenotaph was originally located at the top of Bellamy Hill but due to increasing traffic and the lack of space to hold ceremonies it was moved to its present location in front of City Hall in 1978. This move was not without controversy, not only whether it should be moved or not, but where it should go. I looked at letters and newspaper articles on the subject from the late 1950s to February 1978 when Council approved the move.

EA-10-2447 Cenotaph c. 1945 Located at 100 Avenue and 100 Street, with the Edmonton Journal building, McDougall United Church and the Hotel Macdonald in the background.
EA-160-281 Cenotaph Unveiling 1936

Here at the Prince of Wales Armouries, I am often reminded of the building’s past as centre of mobilization during the wars, from the keystone above the door to graffiti carved by soldiers into the bricks. The Loyal Edmonton Regiment Military Museum annually holds a Remembrance Day ceremony at POWA. This year the building is also host to the travelling exhibit Project Heroes which commemorates the lives of the Canadian soldiers who died in Afghanistan.

Painted over graffiti carved into the bricks of one of the Archives’ vaults in the Prince of Wales Armouries.