A cenotaph is an empty tomb in honour of those whose remains are interred elsewhere.Truly a citizens’ monument, 7,000 Calgarians bought subscriptions to fund the construction of this cenotaph honouring those who sacrificed their lives in the First World War. 10,000 citizens and veterans attended the unveiling on November 11, 1928 – the tenth anniversary of the armistice.
“That the Calgary Cenotaph be placed in the Western end of Central Park, and that the name of this Park be changed to ‘Memorial Park’.”
-Resolution passed by the Calgary Cenotaph Committee, cited in a report by the Chairman, Hon. Lt.Col. J.H. Woods
The Calgary Cenotaph project was conducted under the auspices of the Calgary Cenotaph Committee, based out of the 7th floor in the old Herald Building on 7th Avenue SW and 1st Street SW, which still stands today (albeit highly modified). Unlike the South African Monument, the Cenotaph project was much more successful in its fundraising efforts, having attained the support of some 7,000 subscribers – a total of $17,359 by March 5, 1928. From all accounts, it would appear this sum comfortably funded the construction of the monument itself and the modification required of Central Park to accommodate the cenotaph.
Several locations around the city were considered for the cenotaph site: Riley Park, Memorial Drive, the Canadian Pacific Railway station, the old Tompkins Garden on 17th Ave between 7th and 8th St. W, City Hall, Elbow Park, the Court House, and in front of the Mewata Armoury. For various reasons pertaining to undesirable surroundings and/or distance from the city core, these were all rejected in favour of the current location on the western edge of Central Park, which was renamed Memorial Park at the same time as the cenotaph was unveiled. The Park is now officially known as Central Memorial Park.
The cenotaph was designed and built by the architectural firm of John M. Lyle, based out of Toronto. Interestingly enough, the firm only heard about their winning the design competition via the press, and had to send a letter to Mr. John M. Miller, secretary of the Calgary City War Memorial Committee, in order to confirm the news.
The cenotaph’s construction and installation proceeded at a rapid pace. The aforementioned letter was written on October 4th, 1927, and the monument was unveiled on Remembrance Day, 1928. To prepare Central Memorial Park for the monument, a large bandstand had to be taken down and the grounds renovated to create a more appropriate aesthetic for the cenotaph.
The Cenotaph serves as an enduring memorial to the thousands of young men and women who died serving Canada: the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War, various United Nations peacekeeping operations, and, most recently, Afghanistan.
However, the Cenotaph also stands as a stark reminder of the service provided by those who seek to commemorate our military personnel. In the course of the Cenotaph’s construction, Phil Thorsen of the Vancouver Granite Company was tragically killed when a heavy beam fell on him on October 8, 1928, nary a month before the monument’s unveiling. Thorsen was the superintendent in charge of the monument’s construction and installation at the time, personally vetting each mason and worker and approving each piece of equipment. It is believed that the beam’s fall was a result of a faulty cog on the derrick hoisting the beam. Thorsen himself actually called for that derrick’s use, considering the previous apparatus to be insufficient. Thorsen had also been responsible for supervising the installation of the adjacent South African Monument.
Despite Thorsen’s death, the monument was completed in time for November 11, 1928. With over 10,000 Calgarians in attendance, it was easily one of the most populous gatherings in the city’s history, and was deemed “the greatest outdoor service ever held in Western Canada” by a contemporary newspaper. Some groups, however, were not entirely pleased at how the ceremony was conducted – one complained that future ceremonies should involve an orderly queue whereby attendees would quickly and efficiently enter and leave the monument grounds as soon as they pay their respects instead of allowing them to hang around the memorial.
The new cenotaph dedication was well-known throughout Western Canada. The Calgary Herald (or simply “The Herald” back then) posted the following poem from Edna Jamieson (born Edna Jaques) of Victoria, a well-known writer at the time:
Still we keep faith with you who died
In Flanders, sleeping side by side.
While here, where quiet shadows run
Beneath the warm Alberta sun,
A cenotaph your name will write
In letters of eternal light.
Though life goes gayly on the same
The sun pursues its path of flame.
The wind, the sky, the stars, the dew
Beneath it all we dream of you.
No day goes by but love has said
The name of her remembered dead.
And from the wounded soil has sprung
The flowers of spring, forever young,
To bloom above the countryside
Where the green earth was crucified.
When lads went gayly out to die,
Singing beneath a foreign sky.
Another torch has caught the flame
Lit from the glory of your name.
The Lamp of Peace shall throw its light
Ten thousand hands above the night
Will hold it safe, it must abide,
Keeping our faith with you who died.
To read more about Calgary’s Cenotaph, please see: “The Cenotaph“.
Educators: Click HERE for a Lesson Plan that explores the Cenotaph and two other Calgary monuments.
Main photo: Central Memorial Park in Calgary (Credit: Unknown).
VALOUR CANADA wishes to acknowledge The Poppy Fund, Calgary Foundation and Veterans Affairs Canada for their generous funding of MONUMENTAL CANADIANS.