Morrisburg’s Great War Memorial stands “acclaiming peace” 100 years after

The Soldier’s Monument, at its present location in front of the South Dundas Justice Building on 5th Street. (The Leader/Blancher photo)

MORRISBURG – The 100th anniversary of the end of World War I will take place this November 11, 2018.

Morrisburg is home to a very special memorial, one dedicated to the memory of those who served and fell in the “War To End All Wars,” the name by which that conflict was once so hopefully identified.

Morrisburg War Memorial at its original site in pre-Seaway Morrisburg. It was located at the corner of Main Street and Ottawa Street. This location is now approximately where the Legion’s waterfront memorial stands.

On September 9, 1923, some 5,000 people from the village of Morrisburg and surrounding areas quietly gathered at the Southeast corner of Main and Ottawa streets in Morrisburg Old Town.

The number of cars present was the largest ever seen in Morrisburg: traffic had to be closed off on every street leading up to the Square.

For some time, the crowds downtown waited patiently. Eyes were all focused on a statue, draped in two Union Jacks, and placed in a position of honour in the newly re-named “Monument Square.”

Near the statue a special platform had been built to accommodate the dignitaries expected to attend the ceremony.

By 1:30 p.m., they had taken their places.

Among them were the Earl and the Countess of Minto (she the former Marion Cook, a Morrisburg girl), Reeve William K. Farlinger, the Venerable Archdeacon C.O. Carson, Colonel H.A. Morgan, Brigadier General F.W. Hill, MP Irwin Hilliard and his wife, and several citizens from the town, many of whom had helped raise the funds to erect the statue.

Shortly after 1:30 p.m., a special Guard of Honour made up of SD&G Highlanders, marched into the Square, accompanied by the Military Brass Band of Prescott.

“O Canada,” and later “O God Our Help in Ages Past,” were sung by all those gathered for the ceremony, which had been nearly four years in coming. As the solemn afternoon wore on, the dignitaries made their speeches: finally the flag coverings were ceremonially removed.

A bugler played The Last Post. The people stood for a minute of silence before the notes of Reveille were sounded.

The Soldier’s Monument, carefully inscribed with the names of those local boys who had been lost forever in the Great War, was officially dedicated.

Yet later in that long day, even as the main crowds dispersed, others who had been patiently waiting came forward. Families, small groups, solitary individuals quietly approached the imposing bronze figure: without any of the earlier fanfare, they gently laid memorials at its feet…

Our Soldier’s Monument, was unveiled on September 9, 1923. This is the story of that statue compiled from notes by local historian Jim Jordan, and taken from The Leader archives of that day in 1923.

The impetus to put up a special statue to remember the fallen of the 1914-18 conflict, came from a group which was formed in the year after the war ended.

“… cherish and honour the names herewith inscribed” As stately as ever Morrisburg’s Great War Memorial stands today with nearly a century’s patina. Above, is the actual front page of The Leader from the original commemoration ceremony. Alongside the monument are photos of some of those whose names are inscribed.

Called the Morrisburg Soldier’s Monument Association, the mostly local people sought ways to raise funds for a memorial planned to take a prominent place in the community.

The Association’s intent was to create something that would “serve not only as a memorial to the fallen but also to convey to succeeding generations the value of liberty and freedom, which if surrendered would rob us of the greatest gifts of life, dearly bought by those who served in the Great War.”

The Association needed funds for the project.

People could donate or pledge any amount; pennies, dollars, it was all welcome.

The very first donation came from G. William Cook, who gave the committee $1,000.

Morrisburg and vicinity was not a wealthy area.

The War years had hit hard. But the donations never stopped coming in.

From time to time subscription lists were printed in the paper. Mrs. Barclay gave $1, Rev. Bermon, $10. Fred Meikle gave $200, the Misses Baker, $2. In a time when wages for most ordinary men were less than $2,800 a year, even the smallest donation usually meant that someone had freely given money that might have been used, even needed, elsewhere.

Over the years, the Association gathered the funds it needed – $10,000.

An artist was finally chosen: Mr. G. W. Hill, R.C.A., of Montreal.

The designs were pored over, and one was finally selected.

From The Leader: “The figure of bronze, 10 feet high, is that of an Infantry Man who, having laid off his equipment of war, is in the act of acclaiming Peace.

His right hand is upraised while he shouts the glad tidings, and with his left hand he presses the victorious Flag to his heart. A wreath of Laurel leaves is held against the flag, a symbol of achievement. On the die is placed the Dove of Peace, which is descending on the Globe.”

The bronze soldier rested on a base of granite, 12 feet square, nine feet high. It was on this base that the names of all those killed in the War were inscribed.

For over 30 years, the Soldier stood in Monument Square, a focus for annual Remembrance Day services, a focal point in the village.

The Morrisburg Leader of April 11, 1958, tells of the Soldier’s eventual fate.

“The Morrisburg War Memorial, last remaining structure on the old Morrisburg Main Street…was moved this week to the new Civic Centre.” The great St. Lawrence Seaway Project was well underway: the Old Town was in the path of hopeful progress.

When the Soldier was carefully and respectfully moved from its original site by Luther Wells of Ingleside (who had moved all the cemeteries in the Seaway Valley as well), workers found something unexpected.

Placed in the foundation was a large glass bottle.

J.H. Meikle, whose son Gerald was lost in the Great War in August of 1918, had arranged the contents. Four coins current at the time; the honour roll of those who had made the supreme sacrifice and those who had served overseas and honours won; a list of subscriptions to the monument fund including $2,000 from the Women’s Institute; printed materials from various publications.

When the monument was finally placed outside the Civic Centre, the bottle and its contents were again interred at the base of the cenotaph.

Today, the Soldier’s Monument still stands outside the Civic Centre in Morrisburg. It’s become part of the landscape of this community: people walk by it daily.

On November 11, 2018, it will be 100 years since the Great War ended.

It might be time, 100 years later, to recall the words the Countess of Minto spoke at the 1923 unveiling of our Soldier’s Monument.

She was a Morrisburg girl. Maybe she even knew some of the boys whose names are forever inscribed on the base.

“Through the long dark years of the war – through the following years of upheaval and unrest, God has guided us to the present, and has gathered us here today for the unveiling of this everlasting tribute which is erected in proud and affectionate memory of those who dutifully answered the call, and who so heroically gave their lives.

Many hearts are saddened, many homes are changed, but both are filled and strengthened by the knowledge that for those gallant sons we must carry on.

To the Glory of God and in honoured memory of the men of Morrisburg and vicinity, who, during the great war of 1914-1918 gave their lives for God, for King and Country, for loved ones, home and Empire, for the sacred cause of justice and the freedom of the world, I unveil this monument.

May we, our children and our children’s children ever cherish and honour the names herewith inscribed.”

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