Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


Monday Monuments and Memorials – Nursing Sisters, Cathedral Place, Vancouver

Built in 1927-29 on the NW corner of W Georgia and Hornby Streets, the Georgia Medical-Dental Building was the first art deco skyscraper built in Vancouver. Amongst the rich ornamentation on the outside of the building were three 11-foot-high terracotta statues of WW1 nursing sisters, gracing the three visible corners from the 10th floor. Architects McCarter and Nairne had served in WW1. McCarter had been wounded and credited the nurses with saving his life. The sculptures, designed by Joseph Francis Watson, were a way to honour them. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Beatrice Lennie Sculptures, Shaughnessy Hospital, Vancouver

Two friezes by British Columbia sculptor Beatrice Lennie flank the main entrance of the former Shaughnessy Military Hospital, at 4500 Oak Street in Vancouver.

The carved stone panels are about five by eight feet. The left panel shows a nurse helping an injured soldier, with the crest of the Canadian Medical Corps at the bottom. The right panel shows a doctor holding a wounded soldier, over the Latin phrase “on sibi sed omnibus” – not for oneself but for all. The upper corner ornamentation, sunbeams and clouds suit the streamlined art moderne style of the 1940s building. Lennie signed each panel on the bottom right corner. Continue reading


Monday Monuments and Memorials – Canadian Pacific Railway monument, Vancouver

Many communities, be they municipalities, clubs, professions or companies, saw fit to commemorate members of the community who served or died in WW1. The Canadian Pacific Railway was one such company.  The Angel of Victory by Montreal sculptor Coeur de Lion MacCarthy commemorates 1,115 CPR employees killed during the war. Three castings of the bronze statue were dedicated from 1921 to 1923, at the CPR stations in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Montreal. The angel lifts the soldier to heaven at the moment of his death.

A sentimental image, but what is its merit as public art? In a 27 July 1963 column in the Ottawa Citizen, Carl Weiselberger denounced it:

It is that monument showing the limp body of a dead soldier complete with puttees, hobnailed boots, lifted by an angel (or is it victory?) – a kind of Canadian Valkyrie, carrying a Canadian soldier into a kind of Canadian Valhalla. It’s the worst kind of candy art applied to a great human drama, a desecration of art and taste to such a degree that a super-sensitive passenger might flee from the station to take the nearest bus …

Robert Shipley, in his 1987 book To Mark Our Place: A History of Canadian War Memorials, argues on the other hand that “the primary function of memorials is the visible expression of grief at the loss of fallen soldiers.” (p 111) The artist or craftsperson “has to work from a given repertoire of forms that will inspire within the viewers the emotional intent of the memorial.” (p 109)

The Vancouver statue has seen better days. The angel’s wreath is broken. A protective patina thought to be dirt was removed with wire brushes in the 1960s. An attempt to remove a graffiti peace sign on the plaque left its evidence behind. Moved from a more prominent location on Water Street, it is now blocked in part by a bar patio. (A follower of this blog who once was in the military notes that the soldiers would likely appreciate being in the pub!) 

A City of Vancouver archives photo shows the statue in better condition on its original site.

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Terminal City Club plaque, Vancouver

WW1 memorials pop out when I least expect them. This plaque is in the grand entrance hall of the Terminal City Club in Vancouver. The TCC is a private business club in Vancouver, founded in 1892. Its name denotes Vancouver as the terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway. When the TCC moved to a new complex on Hastings Street in the 1990s, they incorporated some architectural features of the old building: pillars, doorways, chandeliers, a stained glass dome. This plaque came along, too.


A bit about the named members, as best as I can tell from the attestation papers at Library and Canada Archives and death records in the Canadian Virtual War Memorial.  (Don’t expect any women members from the war years … women guests couldn’t even dine at the TCC until the 1920s.) 

George Pigrum Bowie, architect, born 1881, killed at Ypres, July 7, 1915

D. N. Moore (no record … may have served in armed forces of another country)

Owen Cuthbert Sawers, insurance agent, born 1884, killed April 22, 1915

Henry John Haffner, civil engineer, born 1880, killed May 30, 1916

John Gilmour Hay, lawyer, born 1873, killed November 12, 1916

John McDonald Mowat, lawyer, born 1873, killed October 8, 1916

Maitland Lockhart Gordon, civil engineer, born 1882, killed May 7, 1917

James Cuthbert Hartney, mechanical and electrical engineer, born 1885, killed May 1, 1917

Daniel Ellsworth Munn, estate and insurance broker, born 1887, killed April 18, 1917

Lancelot Rodney Warn, broker, born 1881, died February 4, 1919.

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Victory Square, Vancouver

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The Vancouver cenotaph is in Victory Square, a small park at the corner of West Hastings and Cambie Streets. The cenotaph was unveiled in 1924. The obelisk is triangular to fit the shape of the park.

A Vancouver Historical Society plaque in the park describes how the space has changed over the years. In 1918, returning soldiers used the site to reconstruct front-line trenches to raise money for widows and dependents. In 1935, unemployed workers gathered for demonstrations. Early in this century, the surrounding park was relandscaped. Shades on the new light standards in the park are soldier helmets.

Wreathes placed on ANZAC Day can be seen in these photos.