Cranbrook's Wandering War Memorial

The Cenotaph

It is hard to create symbols, and harder still to reach agreement on civic symbols. These are items meant to have power and meaning in the future as well as the present. The granite obelisk and base of the Cenotaph have endured as perhaps Cranbrook’s most visible memory of the past, but not without great difficulty.

It was clear from the beginning that the “war to end all wars” was momentous, frightening and something that the community did not want repeated. The return of Canadian troops in 1918 was delayed by the need for occupation forces. The 54th and 102nd Battalions, containing men from Cranbrook and region, did not get home until June of 1919.

There was a huge debt to honour. Many of Cranbrook’s youngest, best and brightest were lost to the conflict. Others came home changed forever. The town was proud of the many victories secured with the help of its fighting men, and deeply saddened at their loss. Newspapers of the time called out for the erection of a memorial to honour the community’s war dead.

Nelson, Creston and Fernie all moved forward with plans to create civic monuments to those recently fallen in the service of their town and country. The Great War Veterans Association was formed in Cranbrook and, among other things, met to conceive of a monument design and determine a cost. On July 16, 1920, a city-wide canvas was conducted to raise funds for a war memorial estimated to cost $3,000.00. Unfortunately the funds secured did not cover the anticipated expenses and further work was required.

In February of 1921 the memorial committee turned over the funds raised thus far to the City of Cranbrook for the purpose of erecting a memorial to Cranbrook’s war dead. The community was excoriated by the press, raising the specter of an uncaring city indifferent to the magnificent gestures of so many fighting men and their families. Some were asked if they would take their money back. One replied “Take my money back? I gave that money to go towards a soldier’s memorial, and it’s going towards a soldier’s memorial. If I have to build it in my front yard and let it be known that is how Cranbrook treats the memory of her dead heroes.” Council unanimously decided that the war memorial project must be proceeded with.

Meanwhile other communities moved forward. By May of 1921 Nelson had decided what form its memorial would take and had proceeded with arrangements to have it completed. At the same time Creston had accepted a design submitted by the Kootenay Granite and Monument Co. of Nelson and was moving forward with plans to erect their monument.

By September, 1921, the City Council of Cranbrook and the Great War Veterans’ Association had agreed upon a plan for a war monument. The G.W.V.A. was adamant that joint plans would go ahead or the G.W.V.A. would erect its own monument on their Club grounds. The council put on hold their plans to purchase a bronze plate and directed all monies toward an approved monument. By mid-month the two organizations had come to agreement on design and Mr. R.C. Eakin, superintendent of the city light plant, was instructed to proceed with ordering a stone memorial monument out of Calgary, Alberta. The cost was to be approximately $1,800, of which two-thirds had already been raised by public subscription. At the Council meeting it was moved and approved that the monument be placed on the G.W.V.A. grounds which adjoined the G.W.V.A. building (currently the Byng Hotel).

Armistice Day on November 11, 1921 had a simple ceremony at the G.W.V.A. building, with the flag lowered to half mast and two minutes of silence observed. It was at this ceremony that poppies were introduced to Cranbrook as a symbol devoted to having everyone “Remember those who died that we might live.”

At the close of 1921 the monument arrived and was put in place on the grounds of the G.W.V.A.. At the time it was described as “dignified and pleasing.” The local newspaper did, however, state that “one cannot help thinking that it seems inadequate to do honor to the soldiers of the Cranbrook district.” It was decided to leave a formal unveiling of the monument until such time as the weather was more reliable, as this would be an outdoor affair.

Plans were developed by the Great War Veterans’ Association to unveil the monument on Sunday, April 9th, 1922. The veterans were relentless in moving forward the idea that the sacrifices made during the war were made for everyone, and these efforts should never be forgotten. All of the considerable organizational ability of the G.W.V.A. was brought to play. The newly-formed Cranbrook city band was conscripted as were many of the more prominent organizations in town, both business and religious. Appeals were issued to have all veterans attend, and as many as possible in their World War I uniform. The unabashed goal was to make April 9th, 1922 an historic moment in the history of Cranbrook and district.

Work went ahead on sprucing up the G.W.V.A. building and grounds in preparation for the event. Planning preparations resulted in blueprints being posted at both City Hall and the Post Office so that the various groups could see how they were to be accommodated at the site. The whole town was expected. Buck Taylor, a former Sergeant-Major of the 29th Battalion, visited the city just prior to the ceremony and in remarking on the cheerful appearance of the G.W.V.A. facilities said

“that the local Club had it on every Association this side of Vancouver, in the matter of premises and accommodation and the never failing esprit de corps.”

So, the Cenotaph was constructed and in place, and all was in readiness for the unveiling. In everything accomplished the price that Cranbrook’s young men had paid in securing victory for the Allied forces was kept uppermost in mind and action. The veterans were unquestionably building a memory for the future.

This project is sponsored by:

Grave of Major R. J. Black at Barlin, France
Military grave site of Major R.J. Black, Kootenay Battalion, situated at Barlin, France. Major Black was a casualty in WW…
Fernie Cenotaph
Part of the Fernie World War I cenotaph, installed in front of the Fernie Givernment building.
C.P.R. Commemoration to Armour Laird
Official C.P.R. commemoration to Armour Laird, employee, for serving in WWI, 1914-1918.
Cranbrook's New Cenotaph 1922
The War Memorial, erected in the grounds of the G.W.V.A. in honor of the soldier heroes from the city and…