Edward Martin is probably the only woodcutter outside Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales whose memory is immortalized by a monument.
But it's doubtful if even Martin himself would be proud of it. He died in Canada's north without expressing any wish for even so much as a grave marker, and the pretentious clutter of concrete erected in his name was put up and paid for by a man he never knew.
Until his death in 1928, Martin lived in Fort Smith, N.W.T., chopping logs under contract to supply wood for paddle - wheelers plying the Slave River. He lived alone. When he died, the public administrator for the Northwest Territories, an Edmonton lawyer named H. Milton Martin (no relation), had to decide what to do with several hundred dollars the woodcutter had left.
When advertisements in several Alberta papers failed to produce any claimants, the public administrator decided to spend the money for the benefit of the deceased. Why not a monument, in a public
place where passers-by would be made aware of the esteem in which Edward Martin had been held? And what better spot than the point where the road into Fort Smith cut across the sixtieth parallel — the boundary between Alberta and the Northwest Territories?
At a cost of about $1,500 — the bulk of Edward Martin's estate — the public administrator had a concrete monument made, depicting a tree stump surrounded by a pile of chopped wood. The inscription read:
THE MEMORY OF EDWARD MARTIN DIED JUNE 13, 1928
THE BEST WOODCUTTER OF THE NORTH. HE SUPPLIED FUEL TO STEAMBOATS
A SILENT AND LONE MAN WHO TOOK PRIDE IN HIS WORK AND BUILT AN HONEST PILE
But Martin had not always been as lone as his well-wishers believed. Soon after the monument was finished, a woman arrived in Fort Smith claiming to be his wife. The townspeople were skeptical. To prove her claim, she swore that while they had been living together Martin had broken his collarbone. Martin's body was exhumed, and the healed break in the bone was found.
This raised an embarrassing question: did the widow agree that Martin's money had been well spent on the monument? She certainly did not! She demanded every nickel that was coming to her.
For the public administrator there was only one way out. He paid the money out of his own pocket. Edward Martin is still commemorated by a pretentious monument he had never wanted — paid for by a man he never knew. — KLAUS NEUMANN
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