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The story of Oshawa’s Cenotaph

City’s monument in Memorial Park was modeled after one in Evesham, England, and opened on Nov. 11, 1924.

A historical photo of Oshawa’s cenotaph, located in Memorial Park. The cenotaph was unveiled on Nov. 11, 1924. (Image courtesy of the Oshawa Museum)

Jennifer Weymark

Jennifer Weymark

Jennifer Weymark/Special to The Oshawa Express

Oshawa honours citizens who have sacrificed their lives for our country in a variety of different ways.  The most notable, is the Cenotaph located in Memorial Park. The cenotaph is the oldest piece of public art in Oshawa and has a great deal of meaning attached to it.

With the signing of the Armistice on Nov. 11, 1918, Canada began to face the impact of the First World War on communities across the country. The war touched the lives of every Canadian, whether they served overseas or assisted on the home front, and changed the country as a whole. Close to 61,000 Canadians gave their lives during the war, approximately 172,000 were wounded and those who returned home suffered both physically and mentally from their experiences.

Large-scale national memorials, such as the Peace Tower at Parliament Hill, along with smaller memorials were erected in communities across the country. In Oshawa, preparations began to create their own memorial to honour those who served and had given their lives.

The war memorial that stands today in Memorial Park is due to the efforts of Dr. T.E. Kaiser.  Kaiser, along with the memorial committee, undertook a massive fundraising drive to ensure a memorial that properly honours those who served. The final design is modeled after one in Evesham, England, and incorporates elements from war memorials from around the world.

On top is a bronze figure of an infantryman sculpted by Alfred Howell. Howell, a sculptor from England and founder of the Sculptor’s Society of Canada (SSC), was commissioned to create four war memorials in Canada.  His other memorials are in Saint John, N.B., Guelph, and Sault Ste. Marie.

The infantryman stands tall atop a pedestal that holds stones from every allied country who fought in the war, along with stones from battlefields where Canadians lost their lives. On either side of the monument are lights that burn at all times. They are meant to burn perpetually and act as a reminder of the cost of war.  The name, The Garden of the Unforgotten, comes from a book by Sir Frederick Treves entitled The Other Side of The Lantern and was suggested by Dr. Kaiser’s daughter Josephine, who was reading the book at the time the memorial erected.

The memorial was unveiled on Nov. 11, 1924. The ceremony began with a procession of military units, bands, clergy and school cadets from the Armouries to the park. At the park, dignitaries including Sir William Mulock, Chief Justice of Ontario and Howell, delivered speeches and honoured those who fought in the war.

Four mothers who had lost sons in the war, Mrs. Lyon, Mrs. Wood, Mrs. Walker and Mrs. Dionne, assisted with unveiling the bronze tablets that list the names of those Oshawa residents who gave their lives.

The memorial hides a unique feature.  In 1924, a time capsule was buried beneath the memorial.  The copper box is to be opened in 2424 and contains artifacts such as a letter from the city engineer, newspapers, photos, and poppy seeds.

Also contained in the capsule is a cheque of an unknown amount from the Mayor to replace the memorial. Today, the cenotaph remains a prominent feature in Oshawa. It is the centrepiece of Oshawa’s Remembrance Day ceremonies and remains stunning tribute to those from Oshawa who have given their lives in service for Canada.

Jennifer Weymark is the archivist for the Oshawa Museum.

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