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The Vimy Monument had its beginnings in 1920 with a competition for a monument that could incorporate some sculpture. The Canadian Battlefields Memorial Commission announced its winner, Walter Allward on October 1921. The site would be Vimy Ridge. Allward was well know sculptor, having worked on Toronto’s Northwest Rebellion monument and Boer War Memorial in 1910. He envisioned the Vimy Memorials quickly – one reads as in a dream. There would be twenty symbolic figures of virtues associated with war-faith, justice, peace and hope.
Laura Brandon tells us in her essay “Making Memory: Canvas of War and the Vimy Sculptures” within Canada and the Great War: Western Front Association Papers, ed. Briton C. Busch, 2003 that he sculpted the figures in clay and then in plaster moulds, all half size models for the Italian stone carvers who were to do the major work of the pieces. After the unveiling of the Memorial at Vimy in 1936 the plaster moulds, much pencil marked by the carvers were shipped back to Ottawa in 1937 and given a puzzling welcome from various government departments over the years. The main event that saved them from destruction was the 1999 exhibit “Canvas of War” at the Canadian Museum of Civilization where they were shown.
Many do not know of these plasters but many have seen the Memorial with their heroic size statues at Vimy, France. Someone who had visited recently told me that the monument was imposing in the way, I think, that it imposed itself into our minds. “We think then”, he said, “of the young men and boys who always fight our wars and the sadness of war with its deaths and casualties.”
One of many young men was my uncle Allen Everette McLachlan, age 21 who fought at Vimy only to live another month. In his last letter home on 26-3-17 he wrote to his mother about seeing many old friends “old times when I say the boys” he wrote. He couldn’t say where he was but if I am correct the Canadians, all of them were preparing for the Vimy Ridge battle in April. They had all come together and were practicing their tactics; also they were wearing down the Germans on the Ridge. They had learned grave lessons at the Somme.
Allward too knew of that sadness as seen in his statues as witnessed here in his “Male Mourner.” If I go to the Vimy Memorial I will take dates and chocolate just as Allen’s mother had sent him in a Christmas parcel for what would be his last Christmas. I will run my fingers over the names cut into the stone. I will succumb to sadness and permit it to impose itself on me.