St. Norbert Remembrance Day ceremony marks 10 years

Farmers, brothers, teacher among those memorialized on St. Norbert cenotaph


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This article was published 04/11/2019 (1055 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Amid the stone monuments and beneath bare tree limbs stretched across a grey sky, Arthur Bloomfield points out the weathered cenotaph in the St. Norbert Parish cemetery, as half a dozen deer graze nearby.

Much is still unknown about the stone memorial dedicated to 13 men who perished during the First World War and “la glorieuse mémoire des volontaires de St. Norbert,” including who commissioned the cenotaph, and what role the men played in the community before heading overseas more than a century ago.

Over the past decade, however, the cenotaph has benefited from renewed prominence in the community, as the once-forgotten memorial has become a site of remembrance for an annual ceremony on Nov. 11, organized by the St. Norbert Veterans Memorial Association and Arthur and Wendy Bloomfield.

Danielle Da Silva - Sou'wester Arthur Bloomfield, an organizer of the annual Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph in St. Norbert, says the community now knows more about the 13 people whose names are engraved on the stone memorial than ever before. Since the first ceremony in recent memory was held at the cenotaph 10 years ago, descendants of the First World War service members have come forward to take part in the event, and a local researcher has helped uncover the stories of those who made the supreme sacrifice.

The couple has called St. Norbert home for over 40 years, but it was just 10 years ago that they became aware of the cenotaph, which was overgrown with lilies and had a patina dark enough to obscure the names etched into the stone.

After passing the monument daily while walking his grandson to school, Bloomfield decided one day to take a closer look and realized it was a First World War memorial.

“I tried to see if the school could hold a little memorial out there, and I tried to see if the Legion would, but they each had their own ceremony,” he said. “We couldn’t get anything going and it was days away from Remembrance Day at this point.

“The next year, I was trying to get somebody to do it, because I didn’t want it forgotten, but I never thought I would do it,” he said.

St. Norbert Remembrance Day ceremony a community supported event

The first Remembrance Day ceremony at the St. Norbert cenotaph had some 50 people show up. With generous support from community volunteers and business sponsors, it now attracts up to 500 attendees.

For the Bloomfields and other volunteers in the community, cleaning the monument, maintaining the garden at the base, and putting the annual ceremony together is one part of their commitment to remembrance. They’ve also endeavoured to learn and share the stories of the men listed on the cenotaph.

“You knew when you joined, that if you were called you would go. You knew that your friends could die, your family would die,” Bloomfield said. “A lot of these guys, you know, died young. You don’t have kids to remember you.

Canadian Virtual War Memorial/Winnipeg Evening Tribune James Normand is one of 13 First World War soldiers remembered on a cenotaph in St. Norbert. He was killed in Lens, France in a gas attack.

“You’re not going there to be remembered, but somebody should remember you. You’re giving your life for country.

“I still get emotional that they would be forgotten. It just bothered me tremendously.”

Local researcher digging into the stories of St. Norbert’s cenotaph

Word of mouth connected the Bloomfields with Jim Busby, a local amateur historian and researcher, who has helped fill in some of the blanks about the 13 servicemen from St. Norbert.

For the past month, Busby has researched the names on the cenotaph with assistance from the Manitoba Historical Society and Darryl Toews. By accessing files from the Canadian Virtual War Memorial, government archives, service records, ancestry databases, and regimental war diaries, Busby has been able to glean some information about the men.

“I’m always curious about these stories, more than anything else,” Busby said. “Unless you actually start attaching a story to a name on a memorial, all it is is a name on a memorial. And that’s kind of antiseptic and it’s not very personal.

“So, I sort of take it as a challenge, and when you start looking at these files and researching them, you find out some amazing things,” Busby said.

Among those memorialized on the cenotaph are Charles Leaumorte and Jules Seewald, two French men who were called back to France to serve once war broke out. Leaumorte was a teacher in St. Norbert; Albert (the cenotaph incorrectly reads Alfred) and Ernest Ryan, brothers from St. Norbert who died 10 months apart from each other on the battlefield; Richard Fenton, likely the first Canadian on the cenotaph to see frontline action; and James Normand, a young farmer who was sent abroad despite medical conditions that should have excluded him from service.

Canadian Virtual War Memorial/Toronto Star Ernest Ryan, from St. Norbert, died on the battlefield during the First World War.

“When he enlisted, he signed his enlistment paper with an ‘X,’ so he’s illiterate,” Busby said of Normand. “And he also said he didn’t know what month and day he was born. He knew the year, but not the birth date.

“In April 1917, he was reviewed by a medical board in Winnipeg, and he had physical conditions, varicose veins being one of them, for which he refused treatment.

“He should have been discharged right then,” Busby said.

Normand served on a militia regiment on home guard duty, and in September 1917 he was transferred to a reinforcing draft and weeks later was on his way to England, Busby said. He was posted to the Eighth Winnipeg Rifles Battalion in France in January 1918, where he spent two weeks, before being killed by gas in Lens.

“I believe he should have never been there, but there he was,” Busby said.

Fenton, who was born in Ontario, had served in a pre-war militia and enlisted in December 1914 with a reinforcing draft for the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, Busby said. He sailed to England the next month and was posted in France on March 1, later joining the PPCLI in St. Eloi, in Belgium.  

While in Belgium, Fenton went missing in action during a massive attack on June 2, 1916 in a place called Sanctuary Wood, near Hooge, a small village east of Ypres.

“His body was never found, and several months later he was presumed killed in action,” Busby said.

Canadian Virtual War Memorial A news clipping details the circumstances in which Albert Ryan died during the First World War.

Of the men on the cenotaph, “he was the earliest to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces, and the irony is, he probably had the longest frontline service, but he was the first to die,” Busby said

Many war memorials went up between 1920 and 1925, Busby said, and he suspects the nominations for the St. Norbert cenotaph were provided by family members, friends, and partners left behind by the servicemen, as well as businesses and religious organizations in the area. Busby believes many of the men were Métis, but such details were not recorded in military records.

Over the years, the Bloomfields have been successful in connecting with relatives of the St. Norbert soldiers, and are hopeful they will find more as word of the cenotaph spreads. Wendy is hoping to eventually put a publication together further commemorating the men on the cenotaph, but for now will remember their service with neighbours on Nov. 11.

“We know now that some of them were farmers, some were gardeners, some were drivers. So we’ll be able to add a little bit more about just who those people were,” she said.

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