NEW! Canadian Military History Trivia Challenge

Canadian Military History Trivia Challenge

Take the quiz and Win a Trivia Challenge prize pack!

Canadian Military History Trivia Challenge

Take the quiz and Win a Trivia Challenge prize pack!

Where buried love doth lie


It was a solemn duty when a teenaged Neil Grainger picked up a shovel in 1943 to plant a blue hydrangea outside Chilliwack High School in memory of his brother Frank. Just 20, and married but a year, Frank died in a training accident in Ireland. Neil repeated the sad duty the following year for his friend Maurice Jorgenson, a welterweight boxing champion both as a civilian and in the service, who was serving in southeast Asia when he died. Both men were pilots.

The two bushes were among 49 planted by 1946, their blooms a living memorial to the wartime sacrifice of local young men who wore RCAF blue, many of them graduates of the school. The first planting was organized in 1942 by the Women’s Auxiliary to the Air Services, and attended by a large crowd.

“Stone is one thing,” said Grainger, a lifelong outdoorsman. “But I prefer a living thing that should last forever.”

Alas, living things die.

Time has not been kind to the plants. About half were replanted when the school expanded. In following decades, new generations of staff and students of what is now Chilliwack Middle School were unaware the hydrangeas were planted in commemoration.

“The bushes deteriorated,” said Grainger, who in 1989 began his campaign to refurbish the memorial and revive the memories. Memories proved an easier goal. In 2000 a new plaque was dedicated outlining the history, and there was a rededication in 2009. But the school is not open year-round, and the long, hot summers take their toll. Only a half dozen bushes survive and they are looking pretty rough.

The RCAF Association Pacific Group has taken up the torch. “We have the urge and enthusiasm to create a brand new memorial and maybe expand its territory on the school grounds,” said President Reg Daws. “We want future generations of schoolchildren to never forget the sacrifice of those generations.” Plans are in infancy, and thought is being given to ensuring ongoing maintenance. 

Perpetual maintenance was likely the last thing on the minds of the grieving people who rallied to establish most of the war memorials across the country.   

After the First World War, the Imperial War Graves Commission decided not to repatriate the bodies of Canada’s 66,000 war dead. Each death was individually honoured, names incised on identical gravestones overseas or on massive memorials to the missing. And at home, national memorials honour the collective sacrifice. 

But families and communities who could not gather to grieve graveside felt the need to commemorate their dead in their own way.

Across the country rose towers, cenotaphs, columns, statues and monuments. Gardens, parks and avenues of trees formed living memorials. Memorial hospitals, schools, auditoriums, stadiums, stained glass windows, brass bells and bridges provided a constant reminder of a generation’s service and sacrifice.

The bereaved of the Second World War and successive generations reacted similarly, with new memorials, or rededication of older memorials, new names and dates added. Funding for most of these memorials was by public subscription, a national grassroots movement to ensure the sacrifice would not be forgotten.

But heroic deeds fade from living memory and become history, grief fades to commemoration, memorials crumble, buildings deteriorate, trees reach the end of their lifespans, cities grow and present concerns crowd out the sentiments of previous generations. Memorials can be neglected, forgotten and sometimes sacrificed for modern convenience or priorities of the moment.

Carman Memorial Hall was erected by practical prairie people in Manitoba a century ago, and was recently renovated by their descendants.
Dr. Gordon Goldsborough/Manitoba Historical Society

Mapping memories

The first step in preventing forgetfulness is simply to count what we do have.

More than 7,500 memorials are listed on the National Inventory of Canadian Military Memorials maintained by Veterans Affairs Canada, and more are added all the time, said Hélène Robichaud, acting director general of commemorations for Veterans Affairs Canada. 

VAC is among several federal departments with programs that offer funding for building and restoration of memorials. Its Commemorative Partnership Program’s Community Engagement and Community War Memorial funding supports 100 to 150 projects a year.  “Sometimes only $1,000 or a paint job is what’s needed,” said Robichaud.“It’s our mandate to keep memorials alive. What occurred 100 years ago…that story still means something today.”

Funding from Canadian Heritage’s World War Commemorations Community Fund helped Heritage BC create an interactive online map of war memorials.

“People were really interested when we launched nominations in the fall,” said Maxine Schleger of the not-for-profit agency that promotes preservation of history and heritage. Nearly 300 memorials were registered between November 2015 and when the map came online in the spring of 2016, encompassing buildings and brazier lights, monuments, memorials and mountains, parks and plaques, cairns and cenotaphs. They include the Shark 517 Obelisk at Sandspit on Haida Gwaii, one of 13 erected by 101 NF RCAF Squadron memorializing air crews; the All Sappers Memorial Park in Chilliwack; and the Esquimalt Sailors Walk and Totem Pole.

Though many requests have been made to add more recent memorials and monuments, the project was funded for just the two world wars, said Schleger.

Without that federal funding, it’s unlikely the project would have gotten off the ground. And now that funding has run out. “We are still accepting nominations, but our ability to add them to the map is dependent on further funding.”

Revitalizing ritual

A graceful obelisk in Hamilton Cemetery, one of the country’s oldest memorials, has been rescued from the dustbins of memory. The monument, unveiled in 1898 and erected by public subscription, was inscribed first in memory of British soldiers who died between 1862-1868, then to Boer War dead, and finally, to commemorate locals who perished in the First World War.

But the monument was forgotten over the following decades. “After the First World War we started getting cenotaphs,” said local historian Robin McKee. “The memorial was forgotten. But the soldiers buried here should never be forgotten.”

For the past 15 years McKee, Her Majesty’s Army Navy Veterans Society and other community and veterans’ groups have held early November remembrance ceremonies at the site, now firmly fixed on the map of memory.

Mount Allison University’s Memorial Library in Sackville, N.B. was replaced with an arts centre.
Mount Allison University Archives/2007.07/841

Renovating remembrance

A century ago the practical prairie people of Carman, Man., and the Rural Municipality of Dufferin debated the best way to commemorate their First World War dead. They settled on a building. The cornerstone was laid Oct. 2, 1919. Carman Memorial Hall has provided a home for public business (offices and meeting rooms for both councils) and entertainment (a top floor theatre provided space for plays and concerts for half a century).  Construction costs were borne by taxpayers, and the hall was furnished right down to the crockery and stage scenery with support of more than a dozen local groups. The building houses a memorial room and on the grounds are captured First World War German cannons, recently refurbished by local volunteers. 

When premises became cramped, the town’s descendants chose renovation, rather than new construction.  The structure—and memories—were plenty sound enough to build upon. That empty theatre space and basement areas used for storage provided plenty of square footage. Kinsmen Club volunteers pitched in.

“The renovation has provided enough space to last us here for another hundred years,” said Mayor Bob Mitchell. And now there’s even room for community groups to meet and work. “And everybody who comes in has to go by that memorial room.”   

Retaining a name

The Royal Canadian Legion’s voice was one of many raised earlier this year when a Montreal borough asked city council to rename Vimy Park for former premier Jacques Parizeau, who lived on an adjacent street.

“We were afraid they would just change the name and there would be no more Vimy Park,” said RCL Quebec Command President Norm Shelton. Community groups immediately—and loudly—registered their concern and outrage, and shortly afterward it was announced that another park will be designated to carry forward the Vimy name. “We didn’t lose it,” said Shelton. The name will live on in a different locale.

There are silver linings in this particular cloud. The original park was small, as was its name plaque. “Nobody knew it was there,” said Shelton. But if the new park is big enough, it could provide a permanent home for Remembrance Day services and a cenotaph. The Legion moved the service to McGill University’s football field in 2009 from the smaller Place du Canada. Each year the Legion has provided a temporary cenotaph.


But not all protests are so successful.

Despite sustained opposition, particularly from alumni, the Memorial Library at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., was demolished in 2011 to make way for the Purdy Crawford Centre for the Arts. 

Opened in June 1927 to commemorate the university’s First World War dead, the library was largely funded by friends and family of those honoured. When space got tight in the 1960s, a new building was built to house the books, and the Memorial Library became a student and alumni centre. In 2008, the memorial plaques listing dead of the world wars and South Africa and Korea were moved to a new student centre.

Supporters fought hard to save the building, but the university persevered, citing competing duties: honouring the past and meeting future need.   

Grassroots groups’ vital role

The Memorial Library shows that when founders fade away, so do the vision and values that created the memorial, said archivist Caroline Duncan of Oak Bay, in greater Victoria. A new generation of grassroots groups is vital now to preserving monuments, but she worries that membership has dwindled in the service groups that traditionally took on funding and caring for memorials.

“I don’t know what the future is, but it’s got to come from the community.” As communities prepare for the centenary of the end of the First World War and 75th anniversary of the end of the second, she has observed young people making meaningful connections with
commemoration in their communities. 

A new grassroots generation is coming to realize the sacrifice is not diminished by the passing of time.

Top Photo: Hydrangeas in front of Chilliwack High School in B.C. in the 1950s. Nearly 100 people (right) attend planting of the first commemorative bush in 1941.(Chilliwack Museum and Archives/P2003 20 1; Chilliwack Museum and Archives/P. Coll 106)


Sign up today for a FREE download of Canada’s War Stories

Free e-book

An informative primer on Canada’s crucial role in the Normandy landing, June 6, 1944.