UP FRONT

THE GRIEF THAT UNITES

Cenotaphs across the country remind us of this country’s great sacrifices

Peter Mansbridge November 14 2005
UP FRONT

THE GRIEF THAT UNITES

Cenotaphs across the country remind us of this country’s great sacrifices

Peter Mansbridge November 14 2005

THE GRIEF THAT UNITES

UP FRONT

Mansbridge on the Record

Cenotaphs across the country remind us of this country’s great sacrifices

Peter Mansbridge

OF THE THINGS that unite Canada, one, sadly, is a nation’s grief. It knows no provincial borders, no regional tensions—it affects us all equally. No matter where you are in the country, you don’t have to go far to see the silent reminders of why we grieve: the more than 6,000 war memorials in communities large and small. We often tend to pass them by, except of course on Remembrance Day, when some of us join an everdwindling number of veterans who bow their heads in memory of comrades who never made it home from across the seas.

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They are all different, and funded locally. The message in Mahone Bay still moves me: They died for peace, let us live for it.’

In the small southwestern Ontario town I call home, our cenotaph is in the often-busy downtown core, but because it’s sheltered by trees it can be a place of quiet reflection. There are rows of names on the plaque, just some of the more than 100,000 Canadians who became the fallen in the wars of the last century. When I study our list, as I did early one recent Sunday morning, I found myself lingering over the families that seem to have suffered most—like the Barnhardts, who lost three in the First World War, or the Deweys, who never saw two of their boys return after they left for the Second World War. How their mothers, and the mothers of so many others across the land, handled that is something that most of us in the generations that followed have never, fortunately, had to face.

The memorials are, in themselves, an interesting story about us as Canadians, how we initially saw the sacrifice and how we continue to see it today. Wherever they stand across the country, the federal government did not place

them there—the people did. Perhaps that’s why they are all so different. One can only imagine that if Ottawa had organized a nationwide war memorial plan, we’d almost certainly be looking at hundreds of identi-cal monuments across the land. Instead, the money to fund the projects was raised locally, and what was gathered determined what was possible. Local committees decided on design, and that’s why we have a variety of stone, brick, marble, iron and bronze structures, some simple, some spectacular sculptures. It’s also why the messages on them are so different—the result, one assumes, of vigorous discussions that must have taken place in each community. The words often seem written with the hope they’d be forever read as the reason why such terrible sacrifice was needed. I’ve always been moved by the message in Mahone Bay, N.S.: “They died for peace, let us live for it.”

The monuments started appearing after the First World War, proudly constructed by a country that was bursting with pride over how its young men had placed Canada on the international stage. It was called the Great War then, because no one felt such horror could ever happen again. It did, of course, and that’s why those first memorials now tell our history of sacrifice in a special, if unintended way. The one in Morden, Man., is a good example—the letters spelling out the names of the First World War dead have been worn by the elements. When your eyes shift to the names added in later decades, you can see the difference, somehow underlining the anguish of a nation that had to send its young to die yet again.

This year, take a look, pause, and reflect upon what we have lost. And pray the lists need grow no longer. flfl

Peter Mansbridge is Chief Correspondent of CBC Television News and Anchor of The National.

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