Cranbrook's Wandering War Memorial
Cenotaph Unveiling and Move
With the fate of the war memorial determined and the order placed, the Great War Veterans' Association turned its considerable energies and organizational skills to the question of the poppy. They were taken by the image of the blood red poppies blowing in Flanders and France, field after field among the white crosses of fallen Canadian soldiers. As well, the fact that the orphaned children of the devastated areas of France and Flanders were hand-making silk poppies for sale to support themselves caught their attention. The two facts merged with the G.W.V.A. directive to remember the fallen. A piece in the Cranbrook Herald of October 20th, 1921 says in part:
"Sentiment in Canada to honor our fallen soldier boys is even stronger than those of other lands. Canadians by the thousands shed their blood over almost every foot of that land where now a solid mass of poppy blossoms blow."
The message was one of a fitting expression of the ultimate sacrifice made by Cranbrook's fallen young warriors. As the members of the G.W.V.A. moved forward with plans for Armistice Day, and then the ultimate unveiling of the monument in the spring of 1922, they seized every opportunity to remind Cranbrook that the fallen could not be forgotten. An essay contest was sponsored by the G.W.V.A. encouraging every child in the Cranbrook region to talk to a returned soldier and write all they can find out about the Flanders poppy. The contest winners were published in the local paper. It was a brilliant piece of work which fed into the political attack launched by the G.W.V.A. on the Cranbrook School Board over the declaration of Armistice Day as a school holiday.
As work progressed toward the Cenotaph unveiling the G.W.V.A. never lost sight of their mission to speak for and aid returned soldiers. They advanced the case of wounded and disabled soldiers, the question of benefits for dependents, adequate housing for returned soldiers and the issue of unemployment. In all ways the members were encouraged to set aside petty differences, class and wealth, and strive for the common good. Mr. C.G. McNeil, dominion secretary of the G.W.V.A., in addressing a gathering of Cranbrook members stated "What is needed is not less civilization, but more civilization; not less Christianity, but more Christianity."
As the unveiling of the Cenotaph approached the G.W.V.A. was also organizing the 24th of May celebrations and, in what proved to be a prescient move, they moved the celebrations to the grounds surrounding the Government building at the eastern end of Baker Street. They would return to these grounds for subsequent celebrations and, eventually, the Cenotaph would move there.
At the end of March, 1922 the Cranbrook Chapter of the Great War Veterans' Association announced that the public unveiling of the Cenotaph would occur on Sunday, April 9th, 1922. They invited one of the most renowned orators in western Canada, Rev. Dr. Crummy of Red Deer, Alberta, to deliver the unveiling address. Blueprint plans of the accommodation of various groups were hung in the City Hall and Post Office and preparations were made for the accommodation of a large crowd at the G.W.V.A. grounds on Cranbrook Street.
The programme was printed in what the Cranbrook Herald would recognize as one of its outstanding works of typography and pressmanship. The services were to begin at 2:30 p.m. and were to be followed at 7:30 p.m. by a united memorial service in the Auditorium. For the first time in Cranbrook's history all faiths would cancel their church services and act in concert in remembering the sacrifices of the fallen soldiers.
During the unveiling ceremony, with close to a thousand of the district's citizens in attendance, the Cenotaph was handed over to the G.W.V.A.'s local president Major Hicks, by J.P. Fink, President of the Board of Trade.
"Major Hicks, I esteem it a very great honor to have the privilege, on behalf of the citizens of Cranbrook and district to present to you and members of the Cranbrook branch of the Great War Veterans' Association, this monument as a slight token of our esteem of your comrades who paid the supreme sacrifice."
And there the Cenotaph sat, on Cranbrook Street beside what is now the Byng Hotel, until 1926. In preparation for amalgamation with the Canadian Legion the G.W.V.A. decided to sell their building, the old Royal Hotel. Although technically leasing the property from the City, the veterans had spent large amounts of money and invested countless hours of labour in improving both the facility and grounds. The City placed a nominal value of $2,000 on the property and the G.W.V.A. sold to Mr. George Tater for around $6,000. With the veterans no longer present on the property, the question of the Cenotaph's location again came into play.
For some time the favored location was at the centre of the intersection of Baker and Cranbrook Streets. Many felt that it would act as a traffic guide as well as memorial in that location. Others lobbied for a location at the Cranbrook C.P.R. station, the site from which all the veterans departed. After measurements were taken and due consideration given, it was decided that a site in front of the Government building at the east end of Baker Street was really most suitable. It was hoped that the City would develop a small green space around the monument at this site, along with a flag pole. At a meeting of the works committee of City Council on July 12th 1926, Mr. W.E. Worden was awarded a contract to remove the monument and set it up again at the Government building.
Mr. Worden, principal owner of City Transfer, worked to prepare the site and build a base. On August 18th he moved the granite obelisk and pedestal to the Government building site and began work to re-assemble the Cenotaph on a new base. At the same time the Canadian Legion announced plans to construct a new ex-soldiers' club building slightly to the southwest of the monument, on Baker Street. The ties of sentiment and duty remained, with the task of keeping alive the memory and sacrifice of the fallen uppermost.