Facelift for the Alvinston Cenotaph

Daily life in Alvinston can quite often keep it’s residents moving from place to place. Baseball games, figure skating, rodeos, work, school or spending some time at the library. In the background of our daily lives the Alvinston Cenotaph silently keeps watch over those who’s lives were lost giving us the freedoms we enjoy today.

This year the Municipality of Brooke-Alvinston staff worked alongside the Alvinston Legion adding beautiful enhancements to the cenotaph and surrounding area. The Municipality received a grant though Canadian Heritage for the 2022 Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II Community projects. In total the Municipality received $5,000 which was spent on new plants, improvements to the fence including new paint, a new bench, engraving Afghanistan into the cenotaph to commemorate the soldiers, the flag poles were also painted and a clean up of the gardens, power washing the surrounding area and the cenotaph itself. A plaque was also installed.

Legion 2nd Vice President Doug Waller headed up the project with Legion Secretary, Terry MacDonald, Sgt. At Arms Jerry Edgar and President Jack MacDonald worked tirelessly with assistance from Kevin Miller and Janet Denkers from the Municipalities staff making sure everything was ready for the rededication ceremony which took place on July 9th.

Marching to the Alvinston Cenotaph for the Rededication Ceremony July 9th 2022.

Legion members, Branch Executive, members of the Ladies Auxiliary met at Branch 249 at 1 pm and then marched to the cenotaph similar to the Remembrance Day march. President Jack MacDonald opened the ceremonies followed with a brief history of the cenotaph given by Legion Padre Jo-Anne Symington. Dignitaries then lain a few wreaths. All in attendance were then invited back to the legion for a light lunch provided by the Ladies Auxiliary.

Sgt. At Arms Jerry Edgar and Mayor Dave Ferguson laying a wreath

Armistice Day, November 11th, 1918, the day the the First World War officially ended. People all around the world celebrated twice, including Alvinston. The first celebration took place on Thursday, November 7th, “false armistice” and then on Monday November 11th. The first resulted from a report by a US news agency, the United Press which said and armistice had been signed and fighting ended.

In Alvinston celebrations on the 7th quickly got underway with word spreading quickly. The town band came out, bonfires blazed till morning and in Inwood schools were closed while people gathered in open spaces firing guns at will all to find out it was false. The did not deter festivities starting all over again on the 11th in both Alvinston and Inwood. Revelers even rented a horse and buggy from the stables to collect Dugald leitch and his pipes from Watford where he was working so he could join in the celebrations with his tunes such as “When the Bonnie Blue Bonnets Come Over the Border”.

Armistice Day, November 11th 1918, Alvinston (Molson’s Bank in the background, Railroad and River Streets). Dugald Leitch piper front right.

In the Alvinston Free press, March 26th 1919 and article was written on a gathering of over 600 Brooke and Alvinston citizens who came out to honour the local boys who returned from overseas as well as honouring the mothers of the boys who didn’t make it home.Guthrie Presbyterian Church was packed with a crowd that over flowed into the hall ways and out into the street. A huge “Welcome Home” banner was placed across the front of the church. Medals of honour were presented to the returning soldiers as well as to the mothers of the fallen heroes. Dignitaries attending included Mrs.Slater of Sarnia (wife of the United States Consul to Canada) and Mrs. Anderson (President of the Red Cross Society). Singing the National Anthem brought the sad and yet impressive gathering to a close.

A committee from Brooke and Alvinston formed to plan a memorial for those who had fallen. A small lot at the north end of River Street that was once the site of the McCallum Hotel in the 1880’s was chosen. Toronto sculptor Emanuel Hahn, designed the statue, one of two in this design. Hahn was the preeminent designer of war memorials in the 1920’s. The second statue in this design resides outside Malvern Collegiate, a high school in Torontos east end.

The lot, the River Street Park, was purchased for $300 and the monument cost was $3,800 with Brooke’s share being $3,086 and Alvinston’s share $714. Alvinston also took the responsibility to maintain it.

First unveiled on the 29th of June, 1921 in a ceremony held at the River Street park, which is now the home to the Alvinston Library. The statue made of granite depicts a young man in his prime wearing a toga with one arm outstretched holding up the broken chain of tyranny and the other arm holds a sword. Local Soldiers names inscribed on the cenotaph from the First World War from Brooke and Alvinston: E. Webb, V. Augustine, A. Bullock, A. Happier, F. Chapman, F. Meaner, M. Blondell, C. At his on, J. Duffy, J. Grooms, R. Acton, M. English, D. McTaggart, E. Oke, J. Allan, H. Ketch, W. Freeman, C. Forbes, B. Roche, N. McLachlan, G. Riley. Inscribed from the Second World War M. Aukett, G. Clark, Edward Code, Donald Duffy, J. Esselment, D. McMaster, Harold Smith and Welan Smith (brothers).

In 2011 Carmen Bannon from Lambton County began researching the 23 men who’s names are inscribed on the cenotaph. After seeing the cenotaph and recognizing a few of the names he asked at the library quickly realizing there was no information to be found. “One of the tragedies is these guys are dead and once people that knew them are gone there’s no one left to remember them” he is quoted as saying in a newspaper article written by Stephanie Cattrysse. Bannon put together all the information he gathered on each name putting it into a book that you can now find at the Alvinston Library. He believed if people knew more about their local history the war we read about would hit closer to home.

Newspaper Article found at the Alvinston Library

The cenotaph once unified this small community in remembering their young men who fell in battle. Today it continues to remind us how fragile life can be. Each year on the 11th month, the 11th day and at the 11th hour the cenotaph is the centre of Remembrance Day ceremonies held by Alvinston Legion members, Ladies Auxiliary members, local dignitaries and members of the community. Residents walk past the cenotaph without noticing the weight of it’s presence, allowing it to become a part of the landscape.

At 101 years old it was time to give the cenotaph, a piece of history, a much deserved facelift.


One thought on “Facelift for the Alvinston Cenotaph

  1. good story , well researched                                         JA

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