“At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”
-War Memorial in Drummondville, Quebec
“We are at any moment the sum of all our moments, the product of all our experiences” .
- A.A. Mendilow
During times of hardship, people collectively attempt to comprehend and transcend tragedies by creating commemoration sites. Canada has numerous war memorials, so many in fact that Pierre Berton commented that Canada has more Great War memorials than any other nation. This post explores the dichotomy between the ways in which local communities and government officials have chosen to commemorate dead soldiers after the Great War. Both camps worked tirelessly to build monuments that could be used as vehicles to fulfill different aims. Local communities took a bottom-up approach, building monuments as public places of mourning. Government officials, on the other hand, erected memorials as a means for building upon the nation-building narrative. These differing objectives demonstrate that war memorials are, among other things, dynamic cultural symbols. Simply put, memorials mean different things to different people. This post also examines the meanings that local communities as well as government bodies gave to these cultural relics. Lastly, it then considers how those multiple meanings highlight a more encompassing vision of war memorials in Canada.
Places Where People Could Mourn
Throughout the duration of the Great War over six hundred thousand Canadian men and women aided in Canada’s war effort, with sixty thousand dying from war related injuries. The shock of losing such a large number of men, as well as being visually reminded of the war when seeing thousands of visibly wounded veterans on Canadian streets, had a deep impact on society. For instance, in Ripley, Ontario two hundred and sixty men served, with thirty-three never returning home. Such large numbers meant that most citizens were directly impacted by the loss in one way or another. Mayor Charles Simms captured this sentiment in November 1921 when he expressed to Victoria’s Daily Colonist that “there is scarcely a person in the throng before me who has not lost someone, son, brother, husband or father.” This heartfelt statement starkly showcased the collective loss Canadians were experiencing.
The need for communities to bereave and remember those who perished brought them together with the task of creating “fitting tokens of respect.”  Many citizens felt a sense of duty to “sacrifice in a noble cause,” which led many communities to form local memorial committees. Shortly after the war ended, a fervor for building monuments swept across the country. One of many committees’ chief aims was to deconstruct the horrors of death by instilling new meaning, as “an abstraction, a collective sacrifice remote from individual extinction” to help justify the loss and make it psychologically bearable. War memorial committees essentially satisfied the need for collective community expression.
Communities needed to find a physical place to direct their collective trauma. Connecting memories and feelings with a physical space allowed locals to incorporate tragedy into its collective narrative. This approach to bereavement allowed community members to begin the healing process. In the article, “Sites of Hurtful Memory” Gabi Dolff-Bonekamper discussed what Sigmund Freud termed “working through.” This notion suggests a parallel between individual trauma therapy and collective work on traumatic events in history. Essentially, once a community has allowed the truth to be revealed, in this case, by public commemoration, healing seems achievable. Thus, commemoration results in citizens feeling less socially isolated in their grief. This can be witnessed, for example, by the two thousand people that attended the unveiling of a war memorial in London, Ontario during 1925 celebrations.
Communities chose to erect memorials as a means for grounding their displaced sense of loss. Military and cultural historian Jay Winter echoed this sentiment by stating that war memorials are sacred places of ritual, rhetoric, as well as ceremonies of bereavement. Fundamentally, they are places where people could mourn, and be seen mourning. Robert Shipley, author of To Mark our Place: A History of Canadian War Memorials, expressed similar views by arguing that war memorials offered people a place to “visibly express their sorrow."  Winter identified these actions as an exchange, where the living admitted a degree of indebtedness to those who died in service. This exchange still occurs at yearly Remembrance Day ceremonies. Thus, it is important to consider how ritual and ceremony play a crucial role in constructing war memorials’ meaning. Philosopher John Dewey expressed that:
rite and ceremony as well as legend bound the living and the dead in a common partnership. They were esthetic but they were more than esthetic. The rites of mourning expressed more than grief… each of these communal modes of activity united the practical, the social, and the educative in an integral whole having esthetic form. 
Memorials are viewed as aesthetic symbols where the individual experience of mourning becomes intertwined with the public, social realm of the community. In this way memorial sites were converted into social havens where members came together in ritual to comfort one another and share their experiences.
Meanings inherently change over time and this is something that community members acknowledged. This change is largely due to the fact that cultural meanings are often altered with each new generation. That being said, community members felt that the lessons of the Great War were important and should be cemented in time and place in the form of a memorial. This act allowed future generations to reflect and learn from the past, something essential for identity formation. Thus, memorials work to bind present and future generations together through a collective remembering. Sir Edmund Walker captured this sentiment in 1918 when he stated:
If we do not adequately remember those who served and erect a memorial that will cause the students for generations to come to realize that this was a great moment in the history of the university [of Toronto] then we shall be absolutely unworthy of the brothers and sons of the fallen in this war. 
This statement not only united present and future University of Toronto students, but also acknowledges that the memorial would become a focal point of a collective remembrance shared by the community and nation alike. Similarly, in 1918 Dr. Sprott of Barrie, Ontario spoke of the importance of permanence when dealing with the placement of a memorial. He stated, “if we put this tablet in a building it may not be here 100 years from now. I think a statue would be more lasting.” Memorials would then represent not only the values of the day that they were erected, but also reinforce those values for future generations.
Memorials to Build a Nation
The Great War was a nation-building experience and the government believed it needed to emphasize the sacrifice to legitimize the war experience itself. Politicians worked to create a “Myth of War Experience” as a means to displace the realities of war, refashioning it into a sacred experience. This sacred experience, in turn, provided the nation with a new sense of religious feeling, which could be witnessed in the numerous religious iconographies on war memorials erected around the country. As historian George Mosse opined, “the cult of the fallen soldier became the centerpiece of the religion of nationalism after the war.” The linking and use of religious feelings and nationalism led to committees like the Ontario Advisory Committee of War Memorials being created as a means of imposing control over local memorialization. They aimed at memorializing the glory rather than the horrors of war, to instil national pride and justify the cause.
These committees saw memorials as a means to “commemorate not just the soldier but the nation” and believed that local, amateur artists were not capable of executing this aim. Canadian war historian Jonathan Vance pointed out that viewing memorials from this aesthetic standpoint misses the point of their creation. He argued that memorials were intended to express the feelings of local communities and as such should be designed and installed by them. Many communities created monuments which reflected the citizenry who resided there. For instance, in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia their statue took the form of a piper, giving a nod to their Gallic roots. Such statues demonstrated that monuments reflected regional and cultural traditions. This is not to say that local memorials did not provide symbols of national pride, but rather that it was not necessarily their chief aim.
In times of insecurity and rapid change, monuments acted as material sites that served as “rally points” for a shared common memory or identity. They were places where, commemorations were performed, collective memory was reinforced and national identity was constructed. The creation of regulatory war memorial committees meant that there was control over the memorial’s messages, allowing memorials to be used as a means to unite the nation under one narrative. With this in mind, Frances Loring, convener of the War Memorial Committee of the Ontario Society of Artists, gave referrals to qualified sculptors, provided judges for design contests and assisted in choosing suitable sites for memorials to ensure “that the province did not become dotted with bad memorials.” To an even larger extent, Sam Hughes, Minister of Militia and Defence during the Great War, proposed a standard, mass-produced memorial to be installed in communities, with the only difference being the inscription of the deceased soldiers names from that particular place. Thankfully this did not occur, but it was such ideas that showcased the differences in how governments and local communities viewed monuments.
Closing the Gap: A Shared Authority
The above sections demonstrate the complex, dynamic nature of Canadian war memorials and highlight the dichotomy between the ways communities and government officials viewed them. This final section aims at reconciling both spheres to create a more encompassing picture of war memorials in Canadian society.
Both camps used war memorials as a means for reinforcing societal values. The government chose to build memorials to preserve notions of “British Liberty and Democracy.” Communities likewise used memorials as a means for keeping traditions intact. It was Nietzsche who said that monumentalism is “a protest against the change of generations and against transitions.” The Great War threatened traditional values, shaking both individual and collective understandings of community and place. Hence, memorials can be seen as mnemonic devices that expressed the values of the society they were placed in. Both sides, of course, differed on exactly what traditional values they were trying to uphold. Nevertheless, the similarity of their aims demonstrated the shared, ultimate purpose of preserving social norms and values while recognizing the immense upheaval and loss brought on by the Great War. In fact, scholar John Bodnar argued that public memory emerges from the intersection between the official (in this case government) and vernacular (community) cultural expressions. He expressed that:
public memory speaks primarily about the structure of power in society because that power is always in question in a world of polarities and contradictions and because cultural understanding is always grounded in the material structure of society itself. 
Thus, memorials’ meanings are comprised of contested approaches that involve a struggle between advocates from both sides.
The idea of contested meanings can be further understood by examining the meaning-making paradigm outlined by museum scholar Lois H. Silverman. Silverman discussed how meaning is constructed through multiple perspectives and argued that history, when viewed as a process, is an interpretation. In other words, meaning is a story or perspective that is crafted by certain people for certain ends. Thus, communication is a process in which meaning is jointly constructed through interactions between multiple groups who negotiate power and authority in the making of meaning. The government and its citizens therefore “share authority” for constructing the past’s meaning. Seen this way, Canadian War memorials are thus symbols comprised of various meanings and physical representations of struggles for contested power.
Great War memorials are important symbols that represent multiple viewpoints. The aim of their creation is important, but it does not impart an “absolute” definition. For instance, a nationalistic message might be lost on a mother who visited the memorial to grieve her deceased son. Similarly, a visitor could have stood at a monument in a grieving community and felt strong national pride. Thus, the interpretation is just as important as the monument’s original intention. War memorials’ legacies are equally important. Although their messages may have altered over the last century they still remain important symbols in Canadian culture. This fact can be witnessed at yearly Remembrance Day ceremonies. The values and lessons of the Great War enshrined in these memorials still resonate with many Canadians.
An examination of war memorials’ meaning is important because it is still a contested issue. One contemporary example is the debate over the “Mother Canada” war memorial in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. There were many citizens and politicians alike who welcomed the idea of an eighteen-meter high statue as a means to commemorate fallen soldiers who were buried overseas. Others believed that the statue, which was to be built in Green Cove National Park, would disrupt the picturesque scenery. Jane Taber of The Globe and Mail stated that many residents of Nova Scotia were not against the idea of a memorial, but that they “felt left out of the decision making process.” The issue became hotly debated and entangled in politics, resulting in Parks Canada pulling out of the project. This example showcases that stakeholders, residents and politicians should create an open-ended dialogue welcoming different perspectives. Only then will “wars” over the control for a memorial’s message be eased and a more encompassing sentiment be captured.
 Robert Shipley. To Mark our Place: A History of Canadian War Memorials (Toronto: NC Press Ltd., 1987), 103.
 David Lowenthal. The Past is a Foreign Country (Cambridge: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 1985), 185.
 Pierre Berton, Introduction to To Mark our Place: A History of Canadian War Memorials, by Robert Shipley (Toronto: NC Press Ltd., 1987), 7.
 Ibid., 49.
 George L. Mosse. Fallen Soldiers: reshaping the Memory of the World Wars (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 6.
 Jay Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning (Cambridge: University Printing House, 1995), 94.
 Dolff-Bonekämper, Gabi. “Sites of Hurtful Memory.” Conservation 17, no. 2, 2002, 10.
 Shipley, To Mark our Place: A History of Canadian War Memorials, 13.
 Winter acknowledged that these sites could also hold other political and aesthetic meanings, but they were most importantly seen as sites for mourning, where people grieved individually or collectively. Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning, 79.
 Shipley, To Mark our Place: A History of Canadian War Memorials, 102.
 John Dewey, Art as Experience (New York: Penguin Group, 1934), 341.
 Shipley, To Mark our Place: A History of Canadian War Memorials
 Ibid,, 89.
 Mosse, Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars, 7.
 Jonathan Vance, Death so Noble: Memory, Meaning, and the First World War (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997), 203.
 Vance, Death so Noble: Memory, Meaning, and the First World War, 204.
 Shipley, To Mark our Place: A History of Canadian War Memorials, 114.
 Brian S. Osborne, “Landscapes, Memory, Monuments and Commemoration: Putting Identity in its Place” Commissioned by the Department of Canadian Heritage for the Ethnocultural, Racial, Religious and Linguistic Diversity and Identity Seminar (Halifax: 2001), 15.
 Vance, Death so Noble: Memory, Meaning, and the First World War, 204.
 Shipley, To Mark our Place: A History of Canadian War Memorials, 15.
 Friedrich Nietzche. On the Use and Abuse of History for Life, trans. Ian Johnston (Virginia: Richer Resources Publication, 2010 ), 15-16.
 John Bodnar, Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1992), 13.
 Ibid., 15.
 Silverman, Lois. “Making Meaning Together: Lessons from the Field of American History” in Reinventing the Museum: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Paradigm Shift. Edited by Gail Anderson. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2004: 233–242. [Reprinted from the Journal of Museum Education 18, no. 3 (Fall 1993): 235.
 Taber, Jane. “Placement of “Mother Canada” Statue has Cape Bretoners on War Footing” The Globe and Mail, March 7, 2014.
 The Canadian Press, “Parks Canada Pulls out of Mother Canada War Memorial Project,” The Huffington Post, February 5, 2016.