One of the most impressive memorials established by the Canadian Government after the First World War is the majestic and inspiring Canadian National Vimy Memorial. This memorial has a significant Newfoundland connection.
The imposing structure was designed by Walter Allward, one of Canada’s most famous sculptors. Alward’s connection to Newfoundland is that he was the son of John Allward and Emma Hart Pittman, who were married at the Anglican Cathedral in St John’s in 1860.
The Allward’s had four children born in Newfoundland; Charles, Elizabeth Ann, Mary, and James. Walter was born in Toronto on 18 November 1876 as was one other brother Frederick William. The Allward’s moved from St John’s to Toronto around 1870.
Allward began work on the Vimy memorial in 1925 and completed it 11 years later at a cost of $1.5 million. It is adorned by 20 allegorical figures representing faith, justice, peace, honour, charity, truth, knowledge, and hope. A key figure and the largest, “Canada Bereft” also known as “Canada mourning her fallen sons,” speaks to the country’s wartime losses.
“Canada Bereft”, was carved from a single 30-tonne block. Head bowed in sorrow, she provides a powerful representation of Canada, a young nation grieving her dead. Overlooking the Douai Plain, she gazes down upon a symbolic tomb draped in laurel branches and bearing a helmet and sword. The Vimy Memorial is inscribed with the names of 11,285 Canadians who were killed on French soil and have no known graves.
It was NOT only “Canada that was mourning her fallen sons” at Vimy, Newfoundlanders (then a separate dominion) were also in mourning for the sons that they lost at Vimy. More than 3,000 Newfoundlanders living and working in Canada joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). Many were at Vimy fighting side by side with the Canadians.
The Vimy Memorial was unveiled in July 1936 to a crowd of more than 100,000, including 6,000 Canadian veterans who had traveled overseas for the ceremony. The Memorial survived the Second World War, despite fears that German forces would destroy it after France’s surrender. Adolf Hitler visited and was photographed at the site in 1940. Since the Second World War, there have been several formal, and countless informal, Canadian pilgrimages to the Memorial and the 91-hectare park of Canadian trees and shrubs surrounding it.
It is the principal site of Canadian remembrance and commemoration. Beaumont Hamel is the principal site of Newfoundland remembrance and commemoration.
Recommended Archival Collection: At The Rooms provincial Archives: [MG 836] The James Spearman Winter collection consists of draft version and article as published in The Veteran (Dec. 1938: p.13, ill.) describing an official visit to the Newfoundland War Memorials in France and Belgium, July 1938, by James Alexander Winter, Commissioner for Home Affairs. He was accompanied by his wife, Mary (Arnaud) Winter. Includes 20 photographs taken by James and Mary (Arnaud) Winter illustrating their trip.
Recommended Reading: The Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the Great War: A Guide to the Battlefields and Memorials of France, Belgium, and Gallipoli by Fran Gogos.