Preserving the cenotaphs of St. Catharines

Oct 03 2012
cNiagara news photo

​Contributed by City of St. Catharines staff

St. Catharines is home to eight War Memorials, dating as far back as 1886.  As the Town of Merritton, Village of Port Dalhousie and Grantham Township were incorporated with St. Catharines in 1961, so too did their war memorials. Over the last several years much work has been done to research their history, and to assess and plan for needed repairs.  Community support has been strong for the preservation of these Cenotaphs, which honour the men and women who have stood for our freedoms over generations.

The word “cenotaph” means “empty grave,” and acknowledges the loss of life that is represented by these stone and metal structures.  Several of our War Memorials name those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.  Others simply and elegantly recognize the conflicts that have been fought by local men and women.

The front doors of City Hall are surrounded by elegant bronze plaques that serve as our Honour Rolls, with the names of men and women who gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War. Another plaque at City Hall’s main entrance commemorates the St. Catharines recipients of the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for valour in the British Empire. Private Alexander Watson died during the Northwest Rebellion, and community sentiment was such that funds were raised to erect the figure that now graces the front lawn of City Hall. The oldest monument in the collection, Private Watson also honours those from St. Catharines who were lost in the Second Boer War.

Merritton (Merritt Street) and Port Dalhousie (Ann Street) each have beautiful Cenotaphs built circa 1921, and it is believed their statues were carved by artist Emmanuel Paul.

These Cenotaphs have been recent greening projects of the St. Catharines Green Committee and are now surrounded with beautiful, new landscapes. The grounds of Victoria Lawn Cemetery house the Grantham Cenotaph and the Korea Veterans Associations Memorial. Also in the cemetery is the 10th Field Battery R.C.A. Memorial, built circa 1965, and the Royal Canadian Legion’s Monument, built in 1990.

The largest monument is the St. Catharines Cenotaph, located in Memorial Park, on what is now referred to as Veterans Way (St. Paul Street West). Unveiled on August 7, 1927, the first wreath was laid by His Royal Highness, Edward, Prince of Wales, who made a brief stop at the ceremony as he travelled through Niagara. At the time, the monument was a tribute to the memory of the 300 St. Catharines men who gave their lives for the British Empire in 1915-1918. Today, it also commemorates World War II, the Korean War, the United Nations Peacekeepers and the Canadian Merchant Navy.  

This fall community members will see work begin on two of our memorials: the Port Dalhousie Cenotaph and the St. Catharines Cenotaph.

In July 2009, a heritage conservator was hired by the City of St. Catharines to evaluate the condition of these memorials. His report revealed that the St. Catharines Cenotaph is in need of significant restoration. The repair of this Cenotaph is a complicated affair, and this fall a team will temporarily remove its top to review the interior condition of the monument.

Last year, the eagle eyes of Port Dalhousie Legion member Brian Bowman espied space beneath the Port Dalhousie statue, and a quick investigation confirmed that the statue is lifting off its pins and will require re-installing. This work is set to take place this fall, and the Royal Canadian Legion, Port Dalhousie Branch 350, is set to contribute to these repairs, matching a requested grant from the Minister of Veterans Affairs as well as City funds.

The costs to repair the St. Catharines Cenotaph are estimated at $200,000 or more, and to meet this goal, fundraising projects have been underway since 2010.  On May 12, 2010 the City of St. Catharines hosted a concert by The Stadacona Band of Canadian Forces Atlantic that celebrated the Canadian Naval Centenary. The concert had over 300 attendees and raised $3,000, thanks to generous contributors in the community.  Significant contributions have been made by the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 24 ($10,000) and the Royal Canadian Legion, Polish Branch 418 ($3,000) in support of the Cenotaph’s restoration. Other community members have also stepped forward and the total raised to date is $17,000.

These funds will be used to match a grant request to the Minister of Veterans Affairs, as well as funds from the City’s capital budget.  Community members can expect to hear more about these projects in future.  If you’re looking for a worthy project for your donations, consider the needs of St. Catharines’ historic monuments. Their preservation ensures that Canada’s story of valour and sacrifice is shared with future generations.   

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