Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books

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The Vimy Trap

The mission of the Vimy Foundation is to preserve and promote Canada’s First World War legacy as symbolized with the victory at Vimy Ridge in April 1917, a milestone where Canada came of age and was then recognized on the world stage. … Inspired by the heroic victory of the Canadian Forces at Vimy Ridge, the Vimy Foundation believes that the key to a successful future lies in knowing one’s past, and that the remarkable story of Vimy should be shared with young people from across the country. (Vimy Foundation website)

Ball cap fronts feature an image of the Vimy Memorial and ‘VIMY’ ‘1917’, while the Royal Canadian Legion Poppy silhouette is embroidered onto the brim. ‘BIRTH OF A NATION’ has been incorporated onto the right side while the Royal Canadian Legion logo and the colours representing the four Canadian Divisions who fought together for the first time complete the design. (Royal Canadian Legion Poppy Store)

Two odd motifs to mark the centenary of Vimy Ridge. Can a country be born or come of age by its men being slaughtered in a faraway land? Can swag keep that country alive?

In The Vimy Trap or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War, Ian McKay and Jamie Swift ask some bold and uncomfortable questions about WW1 and Canada’s role in it. Continue reading


An Interview with Alan Livingstone MacLeod, author of Remembered in Bronze and Stone

Alan Livingstone MacLeod has photographed countless WW1 monuments across Canada. Now his favourites are featured in Remembered in Bronze and Stone – Canada’s Great War Memorial Statuary. Alan has kindly agreed to share some thoughts about his work. I am pleased to welcome him to Great War 100 Reads today.

What first interested you in war memorials?

Alan Livingstone MacLeod: From my earliest years – spurred by soldier portraits on old relatives’ living-room walls, from memories of young men loved and lost, from relics of the trenches – I was aware of a shadow cast over my extended Nova Scotia family by the Great War. I had seven Cape Breton relatives killed between 1916 and 1918 in Flanders and France. One of the most influential people of my life was a great-uncle who survived the war but could never free himself from its emotional consequences. The accounts of the war experiences he shared with me were mesmerizing and unforgettable. I was exposed to war memorials from early childhood and have had a life-long interest in them. That interest took a leap forward in 2010 when I chanced upon the community war memorial at Westville, Nova Scotia, featuring the bronze figure of a soldier. I considered it far and away the finest, most evocative war memorial I had ever seen. This figure provoked a desire to see more of the artist’s work and a decision to travel the country to find that work and to see as many as possible of the whole: Canada’s two hundred soldier-figure monuments. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Cenotaph, Renfrew ON


The cenotaph in Renfrew centres Low Square in front of the town hall, on Raglan St S at Railway Ave. It honours the men of the community killed in WW1, as well as the man who gave money to build it. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Eramosa Township Cenotaph, Rockwood ON

The Rockwood cenotaph occupies the southeast corner of Main St S and Guelph St, on land donated by St John’s Anglican Church. It was dedicated on 29 Aug 1919 and claims to be the first local monument erected by a municipality. Eleven WW1 soldiers from the village of Rockwood and surrounding Eramosa Township are remembered. Wings were added for WW2 soldiers in 1946. The monument was rededicated in 2012, with new landscaping and ramps to make the area easier to access. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Parliament Hill, Ottawa, ON

The Peace Tower and the Centre Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa have a prominent place on Great War 100 Reads. An iconic symbol of Canada, the seat of government is in fact a war memorial. The dedication is carved on the central pillar supporting the fan vaulting in the rotunda, just inside the main entrance of the Centre Block:

1867 July 1917:  On the fiftieth anniversary of the Confederation of British Colonies in North America as the Dominion of Canada, the Parliament and people dedicate this building in process of reconstruction after damage by fire as a memorial of the deeds of their Forefathers and of the valour of those Canadians who in the Great War fought for the liberties of Canada, of the Empire and of humanity.

Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Eugenia Falls Conservation Area, ON


Eugenia is a hamlet in Grey County, Ontario. Its key attraction is the Eugenia Falls Conservation Area, where the Beaver River falls 30 metres over the Niagara Escarpment. Nice place for a peaceful walk to see the falls and Eugenia’s war memorial.

Dedicated in 1921, the war memorial lists the men of the area who served (“those who daring to die survived”) and who died (“our gallant dead”). The young soldier is flanked by cannons. Crossed rifles and swords are under the names. The monument is decorated with maple leaves and palm laurels. A faded “S. Borland, Collingwood” on the base likely denotes the maker.  

A gingko tree next to the monument is dedicated to Lt John Allison, MC. Allison was a second year medical student at the University of Toronto when he enlisted. He was killed in 1918 while flying reconnaissance in Mesopotamia.

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Percival Molson Memorial Stadium, Montreal

Canadian football fans (of which I am not one) are gearing up for the Grey Cup this week. Great War 100 Reads marks the occasion with a stadium named for a WW1 hero. Molson Stadium (Stade Molson) on the McGill University campus in Montreal is home of the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League as well as McGill teams. The Grey Cup game was played at the stadium in 1931.

According to the McGill University website:

Percival Molson is considered one of the great athletes in McGill’s history; he also left a legacy that built one of the landmarks of McGill’s downtown campus.

His sporting career was well underway by age 16: he played on the 1896 Stanley Cup championship Montreal Victorias. At McGill, he captained the hockey team in 1902-03, starred in track, racquet sports and football and won the Individual Trophy as the school’s best “all-round athlete” for three consecutive years, a feat unmatched in McGill sports history. He set a world record in the long jump at the American Athletics Meet in 1900.

He was renowned for his sportsmanship, and earned the unique distinction of never having been penalized in any sport for unfair tactics. After graduation, Molson became the youngest member to serve on the McGill Board of Governors, chairing its Finance and Stadium committees.

When the war started, Molson enlisted. He was wounded in the Battle of Sanctuary Wood on June 2, 1916, for which he received the Military Cross for gallantry and distinguished conduct in action. He came home to recover, but returned to France in 1917. He was killed in action on July 5, 1917.

His will left $75,000 toward the construction of a stadium at McGill. The stadium, first used in 1915, was named for him 1919.

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Law Society of Upper Canada, Toronto

A glorious memorial to Ontario lawyers and law students killed in WW1 stands on the east wall of the Great Library in Osgoode Hall, on Queen St W at the corner of University Ave in Toronto. Frances Loring designed the figure, which stands before a marble tablet of names. It was dedicated by Lt Governor Ross on the 10 November 1928.

Christine Boyanoski describes the statue as an allegorical figure of “a young man casting off the robes of daily life in the service of humanity.” (Loring and Wyle: Sculptors’ Legacy, p 35) The inscription “These laid the world away” is a line from Rupert Brooke’s The Dead.

Every profession contributed to the war effort. Lawyers were no exception. The Law Society of Upper Canada, the governing body for lawyers in Ontario, encouraged lawyers and law students to enlist. Of about 300 lawyers and over 200 students who served, 113 did not return. There were likely fewer than 2000 lawyers and students in Ontario at the time.

In November 2014, the law society marked the WW1 centenary by granting the 59 fallen law students an honorary call to the bar. My only regret in being out of the country then was that I could not attend the event.

The law society’s virtual museum tells more about the war memorial: These Laid the World Away: The World War I Memorial at Osgoode Hall. The Honour Roll profiles the lawyers and law students whose names are on the memorial. You can read more about each student in Patrick Shea’s book on The Great War Law Student Memorial Project. He also gives a good outline of Canada’s military contribution to the war.

(Don’t look for women here. Although Ontario was the first jurisdiction in the Commonwealth to admit a woman to the bar, in 1897, there were only five women lawyers in Ontario before WW1. Another six were called to the bar during the war. Many more by the time I became a lawyer.)

This year’s regrets: I was unable to accept an invitation to the Lt Governor’s reception to mark the 100th anniversary of the Soldiers’ Aid Commission of Ontario and could not attend Artists Remember for Peace in Kingston, including parts of The World Remembers project.

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Peace Tower, Parliament Hill, Ottawa

“Without freedom there can be no enduring peace, and without peace no enduring freedom.” George VI, Ottawa, 31 May 1939

In this week of remembrance, may we learn from war as we strive for peace … and freedom and democracy and equality and justice.


Monday Monuments and Memorials – Halifax Books of Remembrance

October is Public Library Month in my neck of the woods. Great War 100 Reads bookends the occasion with the old Halifax Memorial Library and its Books of Remembrance, now moved to the new Halifax Central Library.

The new library does not retain the memorial element in its name, leading some Haligonians to fear that wartime sacrifices will be forgotten. That said, the Books of Remembrance and some other artifacts are now displayed next to the local history room in the new building. The books are digitized and searchable online. The library also offers workshops and research tools in its Roots to the Past: Lest We Forget.

The WW1 Book of Remembrance commemorates 1,360 men and women from Halifax County who gave their lives in the Great War. It was dedicated with the cenotaph in the Grand Parade on July 1, 1929. The lettering is a modified form of Gothic Textura with Lombardic capitals at the top of each page. Lettering was designed and executed by Nova Scotia book illuminator, Henry Perley Bernasconi.

Thanks to the librarians who gave me access to photograph the book.