David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Remembered in Bronze and Stone

Brandon Sun, November 6, 2017 – David McConkey

Contemplate a First World War memorial in a village, town or city. Questions may float into awareness. Why was that design chosen? How was it made? What about the artist? Who were they – the names of those who left for war and never returned home?

Questions like those led to a new book that can be found at the Brandon Public Library, Remembered in Bronze and Stone: Canada’s Great War Memorial Statuary.

The author is Alan Livingstone MacLeod, a Nova Scotian whose curiosity about the First World War started as a child listening to a great-uncle who had fought in that conflict. Decades later, retirement gave MacLeod more time to pursue his passion, including two cross-Canada journeys looking at war memorials, doing research, and taking photos for the book.

There are thousands of war memorials in Canada. They range from crosses, obelisks and buildings to plaques, parks and streets. Canada’s memorials only rarely celebrate military victory or glorify war. Instead, they commemorate ordinary individuals and their sacrifice.

MacLeod chose for his book what he regards as the best expression of that sentiment. These are the memorials put up after the First World War that display a statue of a soldier. There are about 200 across Canada; the author describes more than 100. Our province is well represented. There are statues in Winnipeg and in Western Manitoba, including in Boissevain, Gladstone, Hamiota, Holland, Neepawa, Reston and Roblin.
MacLeod tells the stories of two dozen war memorial artists and sculptors. A famous one was Emmanuel Hahn. Born in 1881, Hahn grew up in Toronto. Among his lifetime accomplishments were crafting the image of the “Bluenose” on our dime and the caribou on our quarter.

For a war memorial in Nova Scotia, Hahn created a bronze statue of a grieving soldier standing beside a battlefield grave marker. Ten versions of that design – carved from granite under Hahn’s direction – were bought by communities across Canada. One was Russell.

Other communities were able to obtain a less costly approximation of the Hahn design. They arranged for a marble carving to be made in Italy, based on a photo of a Hahn statue. One was Killarney.

Remembered The author selected Hahn statues to grace the covers of Remembered in Bronze and Stone. MacLeod salutes Hahn’s original Nova Scotia statue as “the finest community war memorial figure in the country.”

In the early 1920s, Winnipeg held a juried competition for a war memorial design. One submission stood out. The successful artist: Emmanuel Hahn.

But then, MacLeod reports, a civic “insurrection” erupted in Winnipeg. The reason? Hahn had been born in Germany. (Brought here as a child by his family, Hahn became a Canadian citizen at age 21.) Because of this connection to Canada’s former wartime enemy, the city of Winnipeg cancelled Hahn’s commission.   

Winnipeg held a second competition: restricted this time to those born in Canada or an allied country. The winning submission was from Canadian-born artist Elizabeth Wyn Wood. But a new controversy broke out. Wood had been a student of Hahn’s; she was now his wife. The city rejected her design and picked another entry. 

You can see the result in Winnipeg today on Memorial Blvd. MacLeod notes that this “unremarkable” memorial is a lasting tribute not just to Winnipeg’s Great War dead, “but also to the venom and hatred the war had spawned in the hearts of Canadians.”

One-half of Canada’s war memorial statues were carved from marble in Carrara, Italy. For centuries, this marble has been a favourite medium for artists, like Michelangelo’s “David.”

Two of the Italian marble statues that MacLeod describes are in Foxwarren and Binscarth. Reading the names of the war dead on these memorials inspired MacLeod to research and relate a number of their stories. These include Foxwarren soldier brothers Edmund and Robert Baird and Binscarth nurse Margaret Lowe. 

Carrara marble is relatively soft – prone to damage from Canadian weather as well as from vandals. MacLeod points out that some communities could be better stewards of their war memorials.

On a happier note, the author applauds caring communities, like the tiny village of Margaret. An anonymous citizen guarantees that Margaret’s “war memorial not only endures but flourishes.” MacLeod describes viewing the immaculate marble statue, the bright new bronze tablets listing the war dead, the accompanying crisp Canadian flag. He rejoices “that someone in a hamlet now largely vanished cares enough to meet a duty” today that would have been commonplace in the years following the Great War.

Canada’s war memorials on the pages of Remembered in Bronze and Stone commemorate sacrifice. These monuments also have their own stories to tell. And they take their place in our on-going history and memory.

* * * *
See also: 

Community Memorials a Link to the Great War

Photographs of War Memorials

Reflections on the Great War 

Francis Marion Beynon: Compelling Story of a Manitoba Suffragist, Pacifist

How Do We Remember War?

Other Reviews

Manitoba War Memorials (Manitoba Historical Society PDF)



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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