Tribute Proposed For Canada’s Military Valiant

January 1, 2001 by Legion Magazine

by Tom MacGregor

Sir Arthur Currie, considered Canada’s most brilliant general during World War I.

The Royal Canadian Legion is throwing its support behind a proposal to build statues representing Canada’s proud military past around Ottawa’s Confederation Square, which encompasses the National War Memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The project is possible following the extensive $20-million restoration done over the past two years which created an elaborate stairwell and the sarcophagus for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The work caused the national Remembrance Day ceremonies to temporarily move to Parliament Hill while access to the memorial was blocked.

Part of the work completed included the refurbishing of the Plaza Bridge which spans the Rideau Canal and crosses in front of the government Conference Centre and the historic Chateau Laurier. Also restored were seven plinths which are part of the original bridge constructed in 1912. However, time has shrouded the use intended for the plinths.

The idea of placing statues related to our military heritage was first planted in the report of the Task Force on Military History Museum Collections In Canada, commissioned in 1990 by then-Communications minister Marcel Masse. Co-chairman Hamilton Southam, a World War II veteran and the first director of the National Arts Centre, said he put the
idea into the report when it was nearly finished.

Victoria Cross recipient Captain Paul Triquet whose proud taunts rallied his troops under heavy fire.

“I was born in Ottawa 84 years ago,” Southam told Legion Magazine. “I always knew about the plinths but I never knew what they were for. It might have been for flower pots or street lights.”

While the report was widely praised in veterans circles many of the recommendations have not been followed, most notably giving the Canadian War Museum autonomy from the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Southam, who fought in Italy with the 11th Army Field Regiment, saw a chance to revive the idea of statues on the bridge with all the interest around the burial of the Unknown Soldier.

“I watched that from beginning to end. That brought everything together. It made the area around the Unknown Soldier a sacred place,” says Southam. “I thought if there were going to be further statues, they should be related to our military heroes.”

The proposal was to pick seven individuals from Canada’s military past who could be represented with statues along the bridge. Southam proposes that the group be known as the Valiant.

He formed an informal group with historians W.A.B. Douglas, Jack Granatstein and S.F. Wise, representing the navy, army and air force respectively. He then approached Dominion Command which had the lead role in the creation of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Dominion Sub-Executive accepted the idea and Dominion Secretary Duane Daly was asked to represent the Legion in a Working Group.

Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski who posthumously received the Victoria Cross for his daring attempt to save a fellow crew member.

Also joining the group were historian Serge Bernier, Cliff Chadderton of the National Council of Veteran Associations and Charles Belzile of the Battle of Normandy Foundation. Ottawa Citizen publisher Russell Mills joined the group to add publicity to the project. The group hopes the project will be funded by the federal government though it has not yet been approved by either the National Capital Commission or the Department of Canadian Heritage.

“The idea was to go back to colonial times and to move forward. We especially wanted to see that we represented all periods, from the colonial period to the War of 1812, and the wars of the 20th century,” says Daly. “Originally the list included Wolfe and Montcalm but they weren’t Canadians. They weren’t fighting for Canada. They were fighting for Britain and France.”

The Working Group agreed to the following list of seven.

Joseph Brant, or Thayendanegea, was a Mohawk war chief, Loyalist and statesman. During the American Revolution Brant was commissioned as a captain in the British Army but chose to fight as a war chief. Following the war, Brant led Mohawk and other Loyalist natives to a large tract of land on the Grand River in Upper Canada. The city of Brantford, Ont., is named after him.

Charles de Salaberry fought with the British during the Napoleonic Wars and then returned to Canada in 1810. During the War of 1812 he raised the French-Canadian militia unit the Voltigeurs de Québec. In October 1813 his force of 460 repelled a much larger American force moving against Montreal on the Chateauguay River by deceiving them into thinking he had a much larger force. The decisive victory meant that Montreal was not again threatened during the war.

Laura Secord was forced to billet American soldiers in her home during the War of 1812. When she overheard them discussing a planned attack on British Forces, she undertook a hazardous 30- kilometre trek on foot, accompanied in part by natives, to the closest British camp. The information led to a pre-emptive strike by the British two days later.

Sir Arthur Currie was the militia officer appointed as the first Canadian commander of the Canadian Corps during World War I. He had been involved in the planning for the assault on Vimy Ridge and led the Canadian troops at Passchendaele. His insistence on reconnaissance and careful preparation was especially important during the last 100 days of the war when Canadians made spectacular gains and took the city of Mons, Belgium. Currie later became the principal of McGill University in Montreal.

Chief Petty Officer Max Bernays was steering Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Assiniboine during a close-range fight with an enemy U-boat during the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II. When a fire broke out on the deck he was left alone to handle the duties of three sailors. He remained at his post for nearly 40 minutes, steering the ship
and sending 133 telegraph orders leading to the destruction of the enemy vessel. He was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.

Captain Paul Triquet was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions in Italy during World War II. When his company of the Royal 22nd Regiment found themselves under heavy fire while attacking the hamlet of Casa Berardi he rallied his troops shouting, “There are enemy in front of us, behind us and on our flanks. There is only one safe place—that is on the objective.” He then led his group through the fires, taking the position and resisting several enemy counter-attacks.

Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski was the upper mid-gunner in a Lancaster aircraft that caught fire during an attack from both ground and air in 1944. The captain ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft but Mynarski went to the rescue of the rear gunner who was trapped in his turret. During his vein attempt to free his comrade his clothes caught fire. When he reluctantly realized the effort was futile he made his way to bail out. As a last gesture to the trapped gunner, he stood at attention, saluted and jumped out of the aircraft. He was seen falling to the ground with both his clothes and parachute engulfed in flames. The rear gunner survived the crash and told the story.

“We felt there should be a general in the group. The Legion raised the name of Arthur Currie,” says Daly. “World War II was really the great event of the 20th Century. So for it we picked representatives of the three services.”

For World War II the group chose two Victoria Cross recipients—Triquet from the army and Mynarski from the air force. Canada did have a Victoria Cross representative from the navy in World War II—Frederick Peters who was born in Prince Edward Island but served in the Royal Navy. Naval historian Douglas points out the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal given to Bernays has been given out even less than the Victoria Cross. “The fact that Bernays is not that well known by Canadians may indeed be more reason for placing him in the group,” he told Legion Magazine.

The project is in line with another statuary project being considered by the National Capital Commission.

Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps announced in 1998 that Ottawa would create the Path of Heroes. The path is both a physical walk in the area and a much more extensive Web site featuring a virtual walking tour of the path. It can be accessed at www.canadian
heritage.gc.ca. The Web site is designed so that Canadians anywhere can follow the path and know of the history of the heroes.

“A country’s heroes are a defining element of its identity,” Copps said at the time. “Canadian heroes, in building this magnificent country, represent who we are, where we came from and where we are going. Our heroes inspire us, serve as role models and instil in us a sense of pride in our country and its accomplishments.”

The real path begins with the statue of Terry Fox which sits on a square directly across the street from the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill. The route then proceeds to the National War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and then up Sussex Drive by the Canadian Peacekeeping Monument and The National Gallery, crossing the Interprovincial Bridge to Hull, Que., and
the Canadian Museum of Civilization, then back over the Portage Bridge to Wellington Street past the National Library and the Supreme Court.

A visit to the Web site shows that Brant and Mynarski are among the figures identified as Canadian heroes. Other heroes on the Web site include statesmen such as Georges Vanier, folklorist Helen Creighton who rediscovered the folk song Farewell to Nova Scotia and musicians such as pianist Glenn Gould. In July Copps announced legendary Montreal Canadians hockey star Maurice (Rocket) Richard will be honoured with a statue on the Hull side of the river.

“We don’t want to interfere with the Path of Heroes as much as compliment it,” says Southam.

Those who would like to comment on the plan or suggest other names for the Valiant are asked to write The Royal Canadian Legion, 359 Kent St., Ottawa, ON K2P 0R7 or contact the Legion electronically at info@legion.ca. Daly says that by Remembrance Day the Legion had received about 100 responses, the vast majority of which were supportive of the project.

“We would like to see Confederation Square complete as a commemorate square and a tribute to military,” says Daly. “We will have these well known heroes around it. And of course the greatest hero of them all is the common soldier and he lies at the base of the War Memorial.”

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