3 November 2008

History: Monuments of University Avenue, part three.

There are many monuments on the University Avenue strip that deserve mention, such as the fire fighter's memorial, and the police memorial. There's a statue outside Sick Kids hospital marking the birthplace of Mary Pickford. There are quite a few modern art masterpieces raised to something or other, giving mute testimony to the fact that astigmatism and blowtorches just don't mix.

But for now I wish to conclude with a simple monument which will lead us into the series I start tomorrow for the week leading up to Remembrance Day.

It's the World War One Cenotaph.

Sadly, there are no good photographs of this simple, dignified monument on the net. Unfortunately the monument faces north, which means any pictures taken when the light is best have the soldier in near silhouette against the afternoon sun.

The word "cenotaph" comes to us from the Greek, and can be translated roughly as "foreign tomb". This is the gravestone for men buried elsewhere.

Cenotaphs began appearing all around the country in the years following the First World War. They were all local efforts. There was no overarching federal programs of memory. The monuments therefore reflect the efforts and choices of the locals. They are diverse. I have seen many, but I have never seen two alike. The people who raised them would have known the people to whom the monuments were to be dedicated.

The inscription reads:

Erected by members of Toronto District Sons of England Benefit Society in memory of those who fell in the Great War.

Their names liveth forever more.

There is one odd thing about this monument: it was never modified. Every other cenotaph I have seen was re-inscribed after the Second World War to include the names of the dead from that war, and then later inscribed with those who fell at Korea. Some are having the names of the dead from Afghanistan and peace keeping missions added. But this one does not. It is solely a memorial to the First World War.

The design is simplicity. Of the three lions- emblematic of the British Empire- one rests, symbolizing the Empire at peace, but the other two are alert and watchful, peering at the horizon for future peril. The soldier on top encompasses both positions. He stands at ease, but outfitted for war and his weapons at hand. In that, this monument was prophetic for its time. War was to come again, and Canada was filled with sleepy lions in 1939.

The bronze soldier standing atop his pediment leads the way to the posts beginning tomorrow, as this man of bronze will lead to another group who may be called of men of bronze as I look at some of Canada's citizen soldiers who for their courage were awarded our highest honour for the week leading up to Remembrance Day.

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