Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Memorial Boulevard - Winnipeg Cenotaph

Winnipeg Cenotaph 007
Place: Winnipeg Cenotaph
Location: Memorial Boulevard
Artist: Gilbert Parfitt
Unveiled: Nov 11, 1928
Cost: $25,000

Temporary Cenotaph location ca. 1920 (source)

Winnipeg's first cenotaph was a temporary structure modelled on the one erected in London, England located out front of the Bank of Montreal at Portage and Main. In 1923 it was removed due to its condition and to allow for the renovation of the bank building that included the erection of 'World War I Soldier' to commemorate the bank's employees who had died in service.

It was felt that the time had come to create a new, permanent cenotaph. A number of groups were in various stages of advocating or even planning a memorial. To get out front of them, the city created a Cenotaph Committee chaired by former Mayor R. D. Waugh.

The Mall ca. 1928, before the cenotaph (source).

A number of sites were considered, ranging from another location near Portage and Main to the city hall grounds. The committee eventually settled on a site on the newly created Mall that ran perpendicular to Portage from the new Hudson's Bay store to the Legislature.

December 24, 1924, Winnipeg Free Press

With a location selected it was time for a design. The committee decided to hold a national design competition and received 48 proposals. The design sub-committee chose Number 33, a 21 foot tall work by noted Toronto artist Emanuel Hahn of Toronto.

February 25, 1926, Winnipeg Free Press

The fact that Hahn was German born, (he came to Canada as a child and was a naturalized citizen), did not sit well with some groups including the Board of Trade who led a campaign to have the decision reversed.

In a February 17, 1926 letter to the Winnipeg Free Press the Board defended its position saying:

“The purpose of the cenotaph is founded in patriotism and sentiment. It is to be a memorial to our glorious dead – a shrine…. The Board having received ample evidence that a memorial, the work of a German born, would under the circumstance attending the late war be unacceptable to many of our citizens who had suffered most by the war.”

It was a a bitter battle that dragged on for months. In the end, it was decided to scrap the design competition and hold a new one. Hahn was sent a $500 cheque for the winning entry and despite the rejection went on to have a long and distinguished career.)

November 12, 1927, Winnipeg Free Press

The second competition held couple more surprises. 

the winning design by Elizabeth Wyn-Wood of Toronto raised eyebrows. It was of a loin-clothed man holding a sword which some felt lacked the solemnity required for a cenotaph.

While the choice of the winning selection was still raging it came to light that Wyn-Wood was the wife of Emanuel Hahn, the winner of the first contest. Some were suspicious that Hahn himself had created the design and turned it in under her name, though she was a sculptor in her own right.

Parfitt, Dec 5 1927, Winnipeg Free Press

The selection sub-committee again backed down on their decision and Wyn-Wood was paid for her winning design. They then skipped over the runner up, A. H. Eadie of Toronto,and went with the third place winner Gilbert Parfitt of Winnipeg. (I could find no explanation as to why they did not go with the runner up, except that there was strong sentiment that the committee should look at sticking to local artists using local materials as a way to get around more surprises.)

Parfitt was an architect working for the province and would later become the Province's chief architect. His design was much simpler then previous winners. A column of stone with little decoration aside from a bronze sword, cross and small lion heads.

Construction began in December 1927  and was officially dedicated on November 7, 1928, just in time for Remembrance Day.

Winnipeg Cenotaph


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