Wednesday, April 11, 2007

One of my Favourite Places:

At the risk of having the blogger gods ding me for plagarism, I found the following article on the web site for The Stratford Beacon Herald, the local paper from my home town. It is about one of my favourite places ... The Cenotaph in Stratford.

The Cenotaph is located on the south bank of Lake Victoria, just down the hill from Stratford's downtown core. The site east of the dam is a beautiful place to reflect on the meaning of war and the preciousness of peace. (something that all Canadians should be doing this week). The Cenotaph itself is stunning, and the bronze sculptures are breath-taking.

The article below gives the history of the Cenotaph and its associated lineage to the Vimy Memorial that was rededicated this past weekend in France. I offer it as a tribute to one of my favourite places to go and spend time ... it's a lovely setting, and a powerful reminder of the boys who too often go to war and never come home ...

Today we honour the six who are coming home from Afghanistan ... Lest We Forget !!

Allward’s rock of ages

By Paul Cluff Staff reporter

(The Stratford Beacon Herald - Tuesday April 10th 2007)

Walter Allward’s last assignment before being commissioned to design a memorial for the ages at Vimy Ridge was in Stratford.

The Toronto-born sculptor designed the First World War memorial that now rests in the cenotaph on Veterans Way, then departed overseas and laboured for 14 years on the Vimy Ridge Memorial in France.

It’s a connection local historians are proud of because it bonds Stratford with one of the most important military battles in Canadian history.

Former Stratford-Perth Archives director Lutzen Riedstra said the city’s chamber of commerce decided it wanted the best sculptor in Canada and was willing to pay for it. “He was Canada’s best sculptor and in true Stratford fashion, we went after the best,” said Mr. Riedstra.

It was 1919, and the people of Stratford and the three surrounding townships gave $25,000 to one of the finest memorials in the country.

The soldiers’ memorial committee decided on a site at the intersection of Erie and Ontario streets.

It took Mr. Allward some time. He finished the first portion but then became depressed by the experience and the relevance to war.

The monument was about the stresses of war, the tension and suffering, said Mr. Riedstra, so it got to its designer. It was a change in theme for sculptors. Victory alone had been the common theme in previous designs, and it is there in Mr. Allward’s central figure, which depicts Canadian manhood represented by victorious right. The defeat of might is exemplified in the sinking figure at the side, carrying a broken sword.

Carved on the centre is the inscription: “They gave their lives to break the power of the sword.”

A photo from the Nov. 6, 1922, edition of The Beacon Herald sums up the importance of the memorial to the city and region. Thousands lined the streets and heads popped out from the Gordon Block and surrounding buildings to witness the dedication of the Stratford War Memorial on a dull and foggy Thanksgiving Day. The bronzes were cast in Toronto, and the granite blocks came from Quebec. Buglers Percy Comley, Victor Ham and Frank Marshall played The Last Post as the monument was unveiled.

“The labour spent by the committee in selecting the memorial and raising the money has been a labour of love; no effort has been spared to assure the erection of a memorial worthy in every respect,” said William Preston, chair of the Stratford Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Preston said the committee “wished to honour the glorious dead whose names are cut in granite blocks. Over 1,800 left the district and 345 did not return.”

Mr. Allward was in Europe during the Stratford dedication.

The monument rested there until 1961 when it was moved to its current location. Mr. Allward was commissioned to design the Vimy Ridge Memorial from a pool of 160 others. Work began in 1925, and 11 years later it was unveiled.

The base and twin pylons that stretch to the heavens contain 6,000 tonnes of limestone imported from the former Yugoslavia.

The two pylons represent Canada and France, allies at war.

Mr. Allward’s masterpiece was hailed by artistic and military experts throughout the world as the noblest memorial in Europe.

The sculptor first earned acclaim for works in Queen’s Park, but the fan of Greek sculpture and
Michelangelo outdid himself at Vimy, putting him on par with his heroes.

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