PHOTOS: DAN BLACK AND ADAM DAY
It didn’t take long for The Royal Canadian Legion to establish its presence in the community of Kanata in the western suburbs of Ottawa. Legion House–the organization’s brand new national headquarters–officially opened its doors in September, and then on Dec. 1 traffic was stopped along one of the busier arteries for a ceremony dedicating the newly named Valour Bridge.
Valour Bridge is a handsome overpass traversing four busy lanes of the Trans-Canada Highway, recognized in the nation’s capital as the Queensway. Until now, the bridge had no distinct identity or special significance.
However, the bridge’s meaning changed dramatically in December with the name change and the addition of 16 plaques that chronicle important battles and campaigns in Canadian military history. These names from Canada’s military past resound on each plaque along with the number of Victoria Cross recipients associated with each time period that is represented.
The bridge’s transformation really began in February 2005 when the Legion’s Dominion Executive Council voted to sell its old building in downtown Ottawa and build a new Legion House. The Building Committee, chaired by then-Past President Allan Parks, had examined the options of refurbishing the 50-year-old headquarters on Kent Street or constructing a new purpose-built headquarters. Refurbishing the old building would have cost more than $3 million, and the downtown space was far larger than what the Legion needed. It had also become somewhat of a challenge to find tenants to occupy parts of the building that weren’t being used by the Legion.
The new building would be exclusively for Dominion Command and for the office of an Ottawa-based Ontario Command service officer. The new space would address the shortfalls of the old building, and it would have a large warehouse for supply as well as a boardroom that could accommodate the Dominion Executive Council. The Kanata location made a lot of sense because it was easily accessible from the Queensway, and there was a hotel conveniently located on the north side of the bridge, presenting a relatively easily walk or short drive to Legion House situated on the south side of the bridge.
The concept of Valour Bridge was put forward by Dominion Secretary Duane Daly while Legion House was under construction. “The bridge had just been completed. You can see it is a beautiful bridge for pedestrians and vehicles,” explained the Dominion Secretary. “I thought, We are building here, and we have just commemorated the Year of the Veteran in 2005. Additionally, the Legion was celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2006. We had to do something special.”
It was proposed to the Building Committee that naming the bridge would be a way of establishing a permanent memorial in the vicinity of Legion House. “The first idea was to call it Victory Bridge. We would lay out all the great military achievements of the 20th century,” explained the Dominion Secretary. “We then changed the name to Valour Bridge in order to better highlight the sacrifice and committment of the veterans themselves. That also allowed us to add in the number of Victoria Crosses.”
The Dominion Secretary explained that the Legion had learned how to negotiate with various governments when it undertook the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier project. In order to get the tomb project started, Dominion Command was authorized to spend up to $500,000 if no one else was going to support the project. In order to have the bridge dedicated, explained the Dominion Secretary, the Legion was going to have to show the City of Ottawa what it was willing to contribute. “The project was taken to the Dominion Sub-Executive Committee which agreed to allow up to $25,000 from the 80th anniversary budget towards the project. We were hoping the city would match that and we would have $50,000 for the project. We received an enthusiastic response from city council.”
Councillor Peggy Feltmate, who represents Kanata South where Legion House is located, liked the idea. Kanata became part of the City of Ottawa through the amalgamation that took in many of the surrounding communities in 2000. “The area has grown in the last 10 to 15 years. When I moved to Kanata in 1983, it had a population of 20,000. Today it is 70,000,” said Feltmate. “With amalgamation, there was some talk of naming the bridges after the old municipalities. But nothing had been decided.”
Feltmate said, she first took the Legion’s idea to city departmental officials. “However, they said it was not for them to make a decision,” she said. “I think we were able to move more quickly because we had to take it to the council.” The council passed the motion accepting the proposal on Oct. 11.
“There was money to be found for the project because we have a policy that one per cent of construction costs should go to artwork or some kind of commemoration. It is a nice bridge,” said Feltmate. “This is an excellent idea.”
Constructed in 2003, the bridge was designed to accommodate not only drivers, but cyclists and pedestrians on its wide sidewalks. “It is an arterial bridge. It was the first bridge of that size that has been built in Ottawa in 20-22 years,” said Wade Clouthier, manager of construction services for development for the City of Ottawa. “It is one of the few with any kind of architectural flourishing, with its five-metre-wide sidewalk on one side and two-metre-wide sidewalk on the other. No other bridges have the obelisks at the end the way this one does.”
Clouthier said approximately 17,500 vehicles cross the bridge each day. “That number reaches a peak of about 2,200 an hour during the rush hours.”
“It is also one of the few bridges in Ottawa that has a name. Most are named for the street they service,” explained Clouthier. Citing the Mackenzie King Bridge and Dunbar Bridge as two of the few bridges in the city that have names other than the street they serve, he explained that a bridge has to “have the architectural flourishes before the city will even consider giving it a name. That’s not a policy. It is just the way things have been.”
The Dominion Secretary said the City of Ottawa was very impressed that the Legion was able to manage the project with in-house resources. Much of the original research for the plaques was done by Mac Johnston who at the time was editor and general manager of Legion Magazine. The accuracy of the plaques was verified by Dr. Stephen Harris, the chief historian with the Department of National Defence’s Directorate of History and Heritage.
The design and production management of the plaques was by Jennifer Morse who was art director at the magazine, and is now general manager. The plaques were cast by Behrends Bronze Inc., an Edmonton-based company. Each plaque lists a time reference or date, key battles and campaigns, and the number of Canadian Victoria Crosses awarded. The plaques describing the events measure four feet by two feet, and the lettering–as well as the frames around the plaques–are raised.
The first plaque in the series focuses on the South African War, 1899-1902. It features the names Paardeberg, Mafeking, Modder River and Liliefontein along with the note that five Victoria Crosses were awarded.
World War I is represented by three plaques. The first is 1914-1916. It features Ypres, Saint-Julien, Festubert, Mesopotamia, the Somme and Beaumont Hamel, with 11 Victoria Crosses. The second is 1917 with Vimy, Hill 70, Passchendaele and Arras and 24 Victoria Crosses. The third plaque for WW I focuses on 1918. Flanders, Palestine, Amiens, Scarpe and Cambrai appear as well as a note stating that 37 Victoria Crosses were awarded.
Eight plaques tell of the battles of World War II. The first is a tribute to the Battle of the Atlantic which lasted the whole duration of the war, from 1939 to 1945, with one Victoria Cross awarded. Canada’s involvement in the entire war at sea is commemorated in the next plaque that lists Atlantic Ocean, English Channel, St. Lawrence, Mediterranean, Pacific and Indian Ocean with two Victoria Crosses noted.
This plaque is followed by the 1940-1945 War in the Air, with Europe, Mediterranean and Far East commemorated along with two Victoria Crosses.
Canada’s involvement in The Battle of Britain, Far East and Dieppe follow with individual plaques. Two Victoria Crosses were awarded for both the Far East and Dieppe. Italy, 1943-1945, has one plaque commemorating Sicily, Moro River, Ortona, Anzio, Liri Valley, Gothic Line with three Victoria Crosses and Northwest Europe, 1943-1945, is commemorated with D-Day, Falaise, Scheldt, Rhineland and Netherlands and four Victoria Crosses.
From WW II, we move on to the Cold War, 1946-1989, with North America, Europe, Atlantic and Pacific commemorated.
The Korean War, 1950-1953, has its own plaque, paying tribute to Kapyong, Chail-li, Chorwon, Hill 355 and Chinamp’o.
Two plaques have start dates, but no end dates. The first commemorates Canada’s contributions to peacekeeping. It bears the date 1948 followed by a dash. The Middle East, Cyprus, Indo-China, Asia, Africa and the Balkans are commemorated. The final plaque commemorates the Post Cold War period, beginning with 1989 followed by a dash. It includes the names Gulf War, Balkans and Afghanistan.
Title plaques with the name Valour Bridge appear at each end of the crossing. The abutments, located at each end of the bridge, are obelisks that give the appearance of smaller pyramids stacked on top of each other. The title plaques are easily seen because they are located on the right as drivers approach the bridge. Each is 59 inches by 29.25 inches.
Each end of the bridge also features a dedication plaque stating: “Valour Bridge is dedicated to all those Canadians who have served in the defence of freedom in the great battles and campaigns since the turn of the 20th century. We are forever indebted to them.”
The Dec. 1 Valour Bridge naming ceremony occurred on a wet and cold day that provided a snowy prelude to winter. As snow turned to sleet, a piper led the official party from Legion House up Castlefrank Road to the south end of the bridge. Prior to that, a group of veterans and members of the Ottawa Fire Department marched along the same route to the bridge. The group of VIPs included Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor, Mayor Larry O’Brien and Dominion President Jack Frost.
As the VIP party approached a hastily erected tent, the veterans and firefighters moved into position. A veteran and a firefighter stood beside each of the 16 plaques, which for the time being remained covered by dark fabric.
O’Brien noted that the ceremony was his first act as the newly elected mayor of Ottawa. “It is exciting to celebrate not only the naming of the bridge but to celebrate our partnership with The Royal Canadian Legion,” said O’Brien. “Those passing the bridge will recall the battles and the most prestigious award of all, the Victoria Cross.”
O’Connor called the project a labour of love which paid tribute to the tradition that the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan and other parts of the world are following.
The Dominion President put the event into perspective. “Just two and half months ago we opened our new national headquarters to help pave our way into the future. Since 1926, the Legion has been a force for our veterans, for our communities and for remembrance. And we now look forward to operating from this new headquarters for at least another 50 years.
“When we first bought this piece of land on which to build, we were struck by the beauty and prominence of this wonderful, pedestrian-friendly bridge which had just been constructed. With massive corner abutments and exceptionally wide sidewalks, it was clearly designed as a major corridor for both vehicles and pedestrians. But surprisingly, it had no name of significance to complement its proud and forceful presence.
“And so we deliberated. As the bridge is a main thoroughfare, paving the way across the Queensway, we reflected that so many of our fallen had traversed so many other bridges in their drive to peace and freedom. Through their valour and sacrifice we live today to cherish the bounty that God has bestowed on us all,” he said. “In tribute then, we proposed that in recognition of all those who have gone before in treading that perilous road and bridge to freedom, we would name this as their bridge to commemorate their valour and ultimate sacrifice. Valour Bridge tells their story of battles, campaigns, victories and defeats. Through the telling we are able to express our debt and our gratitude that their sacrifice and commitment will never be forgotten. We will remember them!”
The Dominion President and the mayor then unveiled a replica of the title plaques. Councillor Marianne Wilkinson–who represents Kanata North–and Councillor Feltmate next unveiled the dedication plaques.
With that the veterans and firefighters lifted the veils covering the plaques, and shortly after traffic resumed its hectic daily pace over the bridge that had just become a major city landmark in Canada’s capital.
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