While many Westman main streets feature war memorials that seem like they are an intrinsic part of the streetscape, there are unique stories behind each and every one of them.
The Daly House Museum set out to tell those stories in a new exhibit, called Sites of Grieving — Sites of Memory: Remembering the Great War.
"I think people might just take (war memorials) for granted as something in the background and not understand the significance of them. By coming to see this exhibit you learn about how important they were to the communities," said Eileen Trott, curator of the Daly House Museum.
The memorial in Alexander is especially interesting, Trott said. The Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, a local women’s group, started raising money for the town’s memorial in 1917, long before the end of the war was even in sight.
"Here’s this women’s groups, while the war is still fully engaged, they’re thinking about the future of how to honour their local boys that have sacrifice themselves the name of freedom," Trott said.
"They started raising the money and petitioned the municipality to donate land and afterward they organized annual memorial services at the memorial and they also created a fund to maintain the memorial."
The memorial in Brandon — the granite cross that stands in the Brandon Municipal Cemetery— was not the first memorial planned for the city. The original memorial was planned to be bells that would ring at the old city hall, but the idea proved contentious. Instead, a veterans' group raised $5,000 in a matter of days to build the iron cross that now stands.
War memorials were first created as a place to grieve the more than 60,000 Canadian soldiers who died in the First World War, Trott said.
"There are no graves in Canada for those soldiers so there was no place for the families and the communities to go to for their grieving process, so basically war memorials were created as a site for the community and family members to go as a substitute grave to remember their loved ones," Trott said.
"Otherwise they were stuck at home with this private grief that they couldn’t share publicly."
The idea for the exhibit came from scrapbooks made by Laurie V. Smith that chart the early history of Decoration Day (later called Armistice Day), memorials through newspaper clippings from 1900-36.
Smith moved to Canada in 1904 from England and settled with his family in Franklin, according to information the museum put together. During the First World War he served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the 107th Canadian Pioneers Battalion.
He was awarded the Military Cross for saving four ammunition trucks from being destroyed by a burning train and for saving an ammunition dump from being destroyed during the war.
Trott said Smith made the scrapbooks as he found the stories as an act of remembrance. Smith was very involved after the war the Royal Canadian Legion and with unveiling and attending local war memorial unveilings.
The clippings and ceremony programs layout early instances of the minute of silence and playing The Last Post, which are both now hallmarks of Remembrance Day ceremonies.
Smith died on Nov. 13, 1974 and is buried in the veterans' section of the Brandon Cemetery.
The Daly House’s exhibit on war memorials runs until April 2020.
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Updated on Saturday, November 9, 2019 at 1:50 PM CST: The cross of the cenotaph is made out of granite. The original story was changed to correct an error.