Decision on appropriate war memorial, site was a drawn out affair

Published on Tuesday, 28 May 2024 10:11

Editor’s note: In advance of a ceremony to dedicate a new plaque correcting misspelled names on the Cenotaph on Memorial Boulevard, local historian Al Gray shares some history of the war memorial. Part one of a two-part series covers the planning and construction of the cenotaph on Front Street, prior to its being moved to its current home.
In what was coined “The War To End All Wars”, Canada and Newfoundland gave up over 60,000 lives during WWI (1914 to 1918), with over 172,000 being wounded. For Manitoba, it is said that over 70,000 served with Manitoba battalions, and of those about 8,000 were killed in battle, of wounds sustained in battle, or accidents.
For those that made it back to Canada, the horrific sights, sounds and memories of the battles left many scarred in different ways, but the biggest of the scars was the loss of family, friends and comrades.
In the Dauphin area, enlistment was steady with the primary goal of protecting the rights and freedoms of democratic societies throughout the world. Men from around the area, and indeed those that were merely visiting the area, enlisted here indicating that Dauphin was their point of joining the forces. For some, their war records show their residences in other parts of Canada but on the day they decided to enlist, they were in Dauphin.
For those souls that fell overseas, their names are inscribed on Dauphin’s war memorial. Every effort was made to properly identify each soldier by name and to ensure correct spelling was done. With this being the 100th anniversary year for the establishment of the war memorial, investigation was undertaken to check for possible errors. Indeed, slight spelling mistakes have been identified and the Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 20 has taken the initiative to correct the unintentional misspelling of eight names.
Post World War II, the names of soldiers that were killed in action were inscribed and memorialized on our war memorial, as well. In review of the names against available war records, it has been determined that one soldier changed his name, and this change will be noted on the plaque that will be installed adjacent to the war memorial.
From a historical perspective, having the correct spelling on the Cenotaph is akin to having the correct spelling on a tombstone. This is our way to honour the lives and sacrifices these brave souls gave in defense of our country.
Post WWI, returning veterans would come to form an organization called the Great War Veteran’s Association (GWVA). Local returning soldiers created an association here and very soon were in the planning stages of erecting a building that would become a home to aid and benefit these veterans,
In 1919, the GWVA was faced with the prospect of two distinct but allied projects. Firstly, having a building for the veterans to assemble was important, but so too was the creation of a war memorial to honour those individuals that gave their life. In November of 1919, members of the GWVA passed a resolution that the need for a war memorial outweighed the need for a building. Efforts were concerted to move this project forward.
As discussion ensued, many different ideas regarding the memorial were brought forward. It was felt by some that a building, like an arena, a community hall, or a wing at the hospital should be considered. Others expressed their opposition to building a building that would not reflect the solemness and respect of the lives lost, and that would after time potentially vanish from existence. Yet others expressed a desire to have a monument created to the memory of a particular soldier instead of the collective fallen.
One of the earliest editorial comments in the Dauphin Herald (January 23, 1919) posed the question, “now that the war is over and peace established, have we done all our duty to those who bore the burden and heat of the day on the fields of France and elsewhere on our behalf.” Those comments are believed to have served as the catalyst for mayor Bowman to call for a special public meeting. In mid-February 1919 it was held and two specific outcomes established. First, the monument “should be local in character, that is to say, separate and distinct from any federal or provincial action along similar lines”, and second, “that a committee of five be established to consult and bring back a report on the subject of the monument at a subsequent date.”
As so often is the case, committee work, no matter the value or intent, can be thwarted by what we now call “paralysis by analysis” or simply overthinking a particular idea. This was indeed the case when residents started asking what the status of the memorial was. By the end of 1920, a report was made to council that the town park be made into a memorial park with the memorial being the central focus. Another committee, this time comprising 20 people, was formed to carry the project forward.
Paralysis seemed to strike yet again when by the end of October 1922, residents were still asking questions about the construct of a suitable memorial. Again, words of veterans were in print stating, for example, “many of the pals I went out with fell, and often while thinking of them, one wonders if their sacrifice has been appreciated by those amongst whom they lived before they embarked on the great adventure.”
Four months into 1923, citizens yet again questioned the possibility of the memorial, particularly because the Winnipeg Free Press was covering the dedication of monuments throughout Manitoba. With the agitation came some news that the memorial was to be erected on the railroad station grounds, provided permission was granted by the railroad.
Finally, by June of 1923 an advertisement in the Dauphin Herald contained a public appeal to the citizens of the Town and Rural Municipality of Dauphin to assist in securing sufficient funds to carry out the project.
In early August 1923, local architect Herbert Peyton was advertising for sealed tenders to be submitted for the construction of the war memorial. By the month’s end, it was expected that the contract would be awarded.
Toward the end of September 1923, the War Memorial Committee published a final revised list of names that were to appear on the memorial naming the fallen soldiers. It was asked of the local citizens to review the list and make any necessary corrections prior to construction.
Early in November 1923, the committee met again and decided that with it being so late in the year, construction was to be put off until the spring of 1924. Two reasons were stated, the first was that a lease agreement with the railroad had yet to be signed, and secondly the cost to hoard and heat through the winter would be too costly.
By the end of May 1924, it was reported that the foundation was almost completed and by early June the actual monument would be set in place by the contractors Guinn and Simpson of Portage la Prairie. With time slipping by, the official unveiling date of the war memorial was set for June 19, 1924.
In the end, the monument was completed with a raised concrete base measuring 20 feet by 23 feet. The design was in the form of a renaissance pylon crowned with the life-sized figure of “Miss Canada” together with the honour roll panels. The statue of “Miss Canada” was carved by Signor Rumbollo, an eminent Italian sculptor.
On a rainy June 19, 1924, the unveiling of the monument finally occurred. Lieutenant-Governor Sir James A.M. Aikins unveiled the monument. As the names of the honour roll were read, a young girl went forward and placed a bouquet of flowers on the monument and the next-of-kin deposited wreaths. Because of the rain, the earlier part of the ceremonies was held in the Town Hall.
It is noted that in mid-August of 1924, when Sir Henry W. Thornton, president of the Canadian National Railway arrived in Dauphin to view the monument, he gave instructions to have the telegraph wires in the close proximity of the monument removed. It was his opinion that the wires in the observed location marred the beauty of the monument.
An editorial comment in the Dauphin Herald dated October 2, 1924, stated in part “though unveiled some months ago, the monument still holds the interest of the public. Day after day, groups of people are found in the vicinity admiring it and glancing over the long list of names on either side.”
The monument stood on Front Street (1st Ave NW) facing the Town Hall until it was relocated to Memorial Boulevard in 1964.
As an aside, the rededication of the Cenotaph with a new monument correcting the misspelled names will be held on June 19, 2024. The original contractors of Guinn and Simpson in 1924, are in part yet again involved. Guinn Bros. Memorials of Neepawa, a descendant company of the original Guinn and Simpson is supplying the new monument.
Part 2 to follow.

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