In 1924, when construction of the soaring Canadian National Vimy Memorial was started on the highest point of the historic ridge in Northeastern France, a humble monument commemorating the fallen of Winnipeg’s 44th Battalion was taken down from that spot.
The 44th’s monument had stood for seven years atop the escarpment’s Hill 145 – 470 feet above the surrounding plain and over that most hallowed, most grisly ground.
It was re-erected in 1926 near the corner of Portage Avenue and Canora Street, at the eastern entrance to what was then known as Wolseley’s St. James Park.
The 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge was a victory for Allied forces in the First World War and, notably, for Canada. Four Canadian divisions succeeded where the French and British armies had failed, taking the ridge that had been a two-year German stronghold.
In the four-day assault, 3,598 Canadians were killed and over 7,000 wounded.
The 44th’s monument is a silent roll-call. A small concrete cross rises from a tall rectangular limestone shaft. A bronze plaque on one side of the shaft tells us the monument remembers the men of the 44th who died at Vimy Ridge or in attacks on The Triangle or La-Coulotte in the following months. Similar plaques occupying the other three sides are crammed with the embossed names of 277 privates and 46 officers.
The veterans of the 44th ensured we wouldn’t forget.
They undertook the preservation of the monument in the mid-1960s after Veterans Affairs would no longer provide for its upkeep. In June 1967, the restored monument was re-dedicated. Earlier, in December 1966, St. James Park was renamed Vimy Ridge Memorial Park.
The City of Winnipeg again restored the monument in 1992.
Two other monuments in the park front Portage Avenue. They honour those who served with the 12th Manitoba Dragoons in various campaigns, and members of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles ("Little Black Devils") who died in the Second World War.
We do remember.
Deeper in the park, a public art piece titled Table of Contents was commissioned a decade ago. It’s a low, long, aluminum surface on varying planes, inscribed with punched out lettering forming phrases in different languages. These were comments gathered from the community.
The thoughts reflect on peace and the tranquility we now enjoy: "peaceful place recalls past battles"; "under the canopy of elms"; "front porch voices"; "trees sway, children play, hurray" and, "peace be with us — always".
Gail Perry is a community correspondent for Wolseley.