The Hall of Honour in the Centre Block on Parliament Hill runs from the Peace Tower to the Library of Parliament, forming a ceremonial dividing line between the House of Commons and the Senate. The Nursing Sisters Memorial, also called the Nurses of Canada Memorial, is the largest of only a few commemorative pieces in the space.
The memorial was unveiled in August 1926, in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Canadian Nurses Association. Margaret Macdonald, Matron-in-Chief of the Canadian Army Nursing Corps, unveiled the monument. The $35,000 cost was funded by nurses and nursing associations across Canada.
Political battles over the monument raged for several years. The powers-that-be first said no to locating a monument to nurses killed in WW1 on Parliament Hill. Then Prime Minister King relented. But the monument had to be “of an historical nature, commemorating the deeds of the pioneer nurses as well as those of the army sisters who sacrificed their lives in the Great War.”
As a result, George William Hill’s monument is centred by an allegorical figure of Humanity stretching her arms from the founding of Hôtel Dieu in Québec City in 1639 to WW1. The caption at the bottom of the monument marks the professional role of nurses, but also conflates the professional with the general caring nature of all women:
Erected by the nurses of Canada in remembrance of their sisters who gave their lives in the Great War, 1914-1918, and to perpetuate a noble tradition in the relations of the Old World and the New.
Led by the spirit of humanity across the seas woman by her tender ministrations to those in need has given to the world the example of an heroic service embracing three centuries of Canadian history.
This Thursday, 22 October, marks the first anniversary of the shooting rampage in Ottawa that killed Cpl Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial and continued in the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill. The red arrow on the photo points to a chunk out of the marble, the gunfire’s collateral damage to the Nurses Memorial. In a way, it could be seen as a fitting mark of the role of nurses in war … seemingly behind the lines and away from the action, but never really out of harm’s way.
Veterans Affairs Canada lists the nursing sisters serving with Canadian units who were killed in WW1. Debbie Marshall brings these brave women alive at Finding the Forty-Seven: Canadian Nurses of the First World War.
It’s election day in Canada. Vote early, vote often! (Kidding only about often … get out there and vote.)
Update: This February 2016 photo shows the damage repaired on the Nursing Sisters Memorial.