Symbolism and remembrance stand side by side in a park at Trafalgar Square, where Woolwich St meets Wyndham St N and Eramosa Rd in Guelph. The former in a monument designed by sculptor Alfred Howell. The latter on a wall of plaques naming those who died.
The program for the dedication of the monument on Sunday 3 July 1927 describes “a magnificent and dignified tribute in honored memory of her sons and daughters who paid the supreme sacrifice in the Great War for Civilization.”
The theme of the memorial is to represent immortality growing out of sacrifice. This is represented by the figure standing at the base with outstretched arms holding two swords upon the handles of which are wreaths of laurel, thus suggesting the idea of glory. At the back of this figure is a cross; hence the two ideas of glory and sacrifice are combined. In this figure is seen the strength of dignity, and the eye is instinctively carried upwards through the upward glance of the face and the towering character of the shaft which gradually merges into the group of “Immortality.” Here is found a typical Canadian soldier holding in his right hand the staff of a flag, the flag being draped over his left shoulder. Rising above this figure is a heavily draped female figure holding a tablet to which she points and the soldier is looking towards this tablet on which his name has been inscribed. The head of the figure looks upwards as though receiving inspiration at the time of pointing to the tablet. At the side of the Memorial are flags upon which are placed a soldier’s helmet and olive and palm leaves, suggestive of peace and victory.
The monument is 29 ft high. The base is of Stanstead granite, the upper statuary of Barre granite and the front statue of bronze. A plaque with John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” has since been affixed to the monument.
McCrae, born in Guelph, is likely the best known name of the 221 from WW1 on the memorial wall. Who are the others? Author and historian Ed Butts has documented their stories in Guelph’s Cenotaph Stories, a series of articles published in 2014 and 2015 in the Guelph Mercury. The Guelph Public Library includes some soldiers’ biographical information on its Famous Guelphites portal.
Building the monument was a community affair. The war memorial committee included representatives of “the Men’s and Women’s Canadian Club, the Trades and Labour Council, the YMCA and YWCA, the Teacher’s Association, the Foresters, the Rotarians, the Independent Labour Party, City Council and the Knights of Columbus.” (Shipley, p 59) A 1922 plebiscite determined the preferred location of the memorial (although it was ultimately put in the second-place location).