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Walter S. Allward



One of the Mourner figures near the stairs leading up to the monument; inset photos, from top: Walter S. Allward; sculpture models: Peace and Faith; The Sympathy of Canadians for the Helpless; Justice and Honour.

Sculpture is perhaps the slowest and most laborious of all art, and the task of creating grace and lightness from stone seems an oxymoron. To succeed in Canada at any time as a sculptor is a challenge, but even that undertaking is overshadowed by the talent required to get and fulfil a commission as grand as The Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France. Walter S. Allward did just that.

Born in Toronto in 1875, Allward started his career as a draftsman in an architectural firm. He was not yet 20 when he received his first assignment, to create the figure of Peace for the North West Rebellion Monument at Queen’s Park, Toronto. In 1923, he cast the figures Truth and Justice, which are installed in front of the Supreme Court in Ottawa. However, none of his work could compare with the memorial at Vimy Ridge which consumed him from 1921, when he was awarded the commission, until the monument’s unveiling in 1936.

The soaring pylons rise approximately 40 metres, and dominate the ridge. If you are viewing the memorial with the Douai Plain at your back, the left pylon represents France, and the right, Canada. Twenty figures flow out of the white stone, each is allegorical, conveying a message of morality or metaphor. They are titled Truth, Knowledge, Charity, Justice, The Spirit of Sacrifice, Sacrifice, Honour, Hope, Peace, Faith, and Canada Mourning Her Fallen Sons. To the right of Canada is a grouping of three titled The Breaking of the Sword, and to her left clusters a group of four figures titled The Sympathy of Canadians for the Helpless. Finally, there are two Mourners, one male and one female reclining on the sides of the stairs that lead up to the back of the monument. The names of 11,285 who were posted as “missing, presumed dead” in France in World War I are carved into the walls.

Allward was obsessed with the carnage of war, and drew some of his inspiration from a dream he had during the war. “I went to sleep one night after dwelling on all the muck and misery over there…. I dreamed I was in a great battlefield. I saw our men going in by the thousands and being mowed down by the sickles of death…. Suddenly through the avenue I saw thousands marching to the aid of our armies. They were the dead… when I awoke it stayed with me for months. Without the dead we are helpless. So, I have tried to show this in this monument to Canada’s fallen, what we owed them and we will forever owe them.”

The simplicity of the smooth pylons, contrasted with the lush carving of the figures, creates an unforgettable composition, and a worthy monument to the birth of a nation. Allward died in 1955, but his masterpiece will live on for countless generations.

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Many of the Canadian War Museum’s ­holdings are ­available in reproduction at affordable prices. For more information, contact Image Reproduction Services, Canadian War Museum, 1 Vimy Place, Ottawa, ON K1R 0C2; tel: 1-819-776-8686; fax: 1-819-776-8623; e-mail:


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