‘Ottawa’ Restoration Work Finished, Ottawa’s National War Memorial is Open to the Public Again
After being closed for repairs and restoration since early April, the National War Memorial on Elgin Street was reopened to the public Friday.
The $3.2-million project saw repairs made to damaged concrete slabs and paving around the monument, its bronze statues refurbished and preservation work on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This was the second phase of renovations, following a similar closure in 2014 during which workers repaired the concrete and reinforced steel in a crawl space underneath the monument. That repair cost almost $3 million.
Visiting from Sarnia, Tammy Bendel was among the first to visit the newly opened site on Friday. “My husband served as a combat engineer for 20 years, full time, and I was a part-time combat engineer for 10 years,” she said, “and I think it’s really important to respect our veterans and our soldiers serving. So I wanted to come here and show my respect.
“I’d never been here before, and it’s one of the things I wanted to do when I visited Ottawa. I think it’s amazing.”
Bendel’s companion, Pat Skirtschak, last visited the War Memorial as part of a Grade-5 field trip from St. Thomas in the mid 1960s. “It didn’t mean as much to me when I was 10, but it means so much to me now,” she said. “I’ve always loved this monument and they did an awesome job restoring it. My grandpa was a soldier, so to me this is really important, and I love each and every soldier that serves for our country.”
The National War Memorial was the result of a 1925 international design competition that attracted 127 submissions, 66 of them from Canada. It was intended to honour those who served in the First World War. Approximately 650,000 Canadians served in that war, with 68,000 dying. The initial budget set for the monument was $100,000. Its final cost was $1.3 million. Prime Minister Mackenzie King, a strong proponent for the memorial, chose its site.
British sculptor Vernon March won the competition. The monument, also known as The Response, symbolizes Canadians’ willingness to serve not just Canada, but the Commonwealth. Passing through its arch are 22 figures, each one-third larger than life. They represent all the branches of the Canadian Forces, and are positioned in a hierarchical position, with a kilted infantryman with a machine-gun, and a Lewis gunner, leading the way. Behind them are a pilot; an air mechanic; a sailor; a mounted dispatch rider; a member of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, also on horseback; a pair of infantry riflemen; two nurses; a stretcher bearer; an engineer; a member each of the Canadian Forestry Corps, the Canadian Army Service Corps, the Canadian Signals Corps, the Corps of Canadian Railway troops, the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery, and the Motor Machine Gun Corps, and three additional infantrymen.
March began work in 1926. When he died in 1930, his six brothers and his sister, all artists, completed the work. When the figures were completed, in 1932, they were put on display in Hyde Park in London.
Construction of the monument was completed in October 1938, although the surrounding landscaping took another six months.
King George VI officially unveiled the War Memorial on May 21, 1939, just over 100 days before the start of the Second World War. A crowd of 100,000 people attended the ceremony, including 12,000 veterans.
In 1982, the Memorial was re-dedicated to include those who had served in the Second World War and the Korean War. It was dedicated again in 2014 to include veterans of the Second Boer War and the war in Afghanistan.
BY THE NUMBERS
21.34m – Height (in metres) of the memorial;
5.33m – Height of Peace and Freedom, the two winged figures;
2.4m – Height of each of the 22 servicemen and women;
503 – Tonnes of rose-grey granite used, from the Dumas Quarry at Rivière-à-Pierre, Que.
32 – Tonnes of bronze
$1.3 million – Total cost when completed in 1938, approximately $21.7 million.