By Cathy English, Revelstoke Museum & Archives
One hundred years ago, in November of 1914, the war had recently begun, and the first soldiers had left for England, where they would train for the winter before travelling to the front. At this time, Revelstoke had not seen any casualties. There were still much patriotic fervor and enthusiasm for the war effort, and this early in the conflict, nobody expected that it would drag on for four long, difficult years. Local groups, such as the Women’s Canadian Club, and the Red Cross Society, were busy knitting socks and preparing packages to ensure that the local men would not be forgotten for their first winter away from Revelstoke.
As the war grew on, more and more people received the sad news that their son, their husband, their brother, or their friend had died in the fighting. By Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, over 100 men from Revelstoke and the surrounding district had died from wounds or illness caused by the war. The citizens of Revelstoke seemed to be in a constant state of mourning as the numbers of casualties grew. There were days when the bad news came in clusters, such as the Battle of Mount Sorrel on June 3, 1916, when six Revelstoke men died, and the Battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917, which took the lives of twelve Revelstoke men. Another seven men died at Passendaele in October and November of 1917.
Local community groups, such as the YMCA, the two volunteer Fire Brigades, and the churches, all created honour rolls to mark the contribution of all of their members who were serving, as well as those who paid the supreme sacrifice. Everyone in the community felt a strong sense of solidarity with the local soldiers and officers and wanted to do all in their power to make sure the men knew they were constantly being thought of.
As a tangible way of honouring those serving overseas, on May 23, 1917, the Women’s Canadian Club planted several maple trees on the courthouse grounds as a living memorial. At the service, Mayor Hector McKinnon, who had just lost his brother Leo at Vimy Ridge, said, “It is but a small thing to plant some trees in honor of our boys, but it will show they are not forgotten and will in years to come serve to remind those children assembled here today what they owe to the brave lads who gave up splendid positions and loved ones and adopted the Maple Leaf as their badge, many of them to go down to their death that we might live in safety. Let us not forget them but prepare in a substantial way to receive with open arms those who may be spared to return.”
When Armistice was declared for 11:00 am on November 11, 1918, emotions were mixed. There was joy and relief that the fighting had finally come to an end, but sadness and regret that so many lives had been lost. Everyone had been affected by the toll of the war in some way. Another cause for sadness was the death on November 10, 1918 of Allan Daniel McDonald, a recently returned solider who died of what was known as “trench fever.” His funeral was held on the day of Armistice, and the local victory parade was delayed to allow for his funeral procression to make its way to the C.P.R. station from where his body was transported to his family home in eastern Canada. After that, the victory parade wended its way through most of the streets of Revelstoke, with schoolchildren, residents and returned soldiers all coming out to mark the end of the terrible conflict.
The people of Revelstoke felt strongly that the men who had sacrificed their lives for their country must be remembered for all time. The Women’s Canadian Club arranged for a memorial plaque to be created and placed on the courthouse. This bronze plaque was unveiled by the Prince of Wales on September 20, 1919.
By 1920, the Great War Veteran’s Association had formed, and they gained use of the former hospital building. The G.W.V.A. was later to become the Royal Canadian Legion, and the old hospital served as the legion building until it burned down in 1961. The G.W.V.A. felt that the community should have a permanent cenotaph, rather than simply the plaque on the courthouse. They began fundraising for the cenotaph, and decided that a new plaque would be prepared, as some of the names on the courthouse plaque were incorrect.
At the time that the cenotaph was to be built, there was a street known as Government Road that angled from Victoria Road to Third Street, cutting through the former Mountain View School property. The last vestige of this angled road can be seen on what is now Pearson Street, alongside the Lordco store. The City of Revelstoke granted a small triangle of land at the intersection of First Street, Garden Avenue and Government Street for the cenotaph.
The War Committee raised funds through a benefit play and by running a refreshment stand at the Ski Festival and through donations. The total cost for the Cenotaph project was $3,370, including $2,600 for the cenotaph itself and $475 for the bronze tablet. The monument was made of white hammered granite by the B.C. Monumental Works of New Westminster, and the bronze tablet was made by O.B. Allan, Jeweler of Vancouver. In a letter to the War Memorial Committee dated July 23, 1923, the manager of the B.C. Monumental Works states: “The bronze tablet is, in our opinion, very fine indeed and by far the best we have seen used on any war memorial so far put up by this company.”
On September 2, 1923, a large crowd gathered in front of the new war memorial. The Revelstoke Band and combined choirs from all of Revelstoke’s churches were present to lead the music at the service. The Cenotaph was unveiled by Brigadier General Victor W. Odlum with the following words: “Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friend. In grateful recognition in the service they have performed for us, our Dominion, for the Empire and for civilization, and in recognition, too, of the great price they paid in giving that service, in the name of the citizens of Revelstoke, I unveil this monument to them.”
Memorial tablets were added after World War II and after the Korean War. Once Government Road was closed in the 1960s, the cenotaph was moved to its present location.