The brotherhood of the traveling cenotaph

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
April 14th, 2011

In its headline story on Saturday November 12th, 1921, The Rossland Miner noted that “one of the most impressive ceremonies witnessed in the history of Rossland took place yesterday, when under the auspices of the local branch of the Great War Veterans of Canada, the beautiful War Memorial erected by the veterans and citizens in honour of the fallen heroes in the late World War was unveiled.”

November 11th  of this year will mark the 90th anniversary of that event.

Since that time, Rossland’s treasured cenotaph has had four different homes around the city’s downtown core. If the Legion members have their way, it could soon be on the move once again from its current location next to the Library on Columbia Avenue–back to Pioneer Park, or Esling Park as it was originally named.

Allan Stinson of the Legion spoke eloquently and respectfully before city council this week to back up the Legion’s request that City Hall assist them in moving the cenotaph back to Esling Park.

With Columbia Avenue slated to be torn up and rebuilt in the summer of 2012, the hope is that as part of that project the cenotaph can also be moved. Staff’s report back to council on the potential plan to move the landmark however came attached with a $10,000 price tag.

The current location in the cramped corner next to the library, as noted by Mr. Stinson and several members of council, is less than ideal. Particularly in recent years with a resurgence of attendance to Remembrance Day ceremonies, crowds routinely spill out onto the street which also functions as a provincial highway and carries heavy traffic loads of both cars and tractor trailers. To say the least the location is less than peaceful for meaningful ceremonies and moments of silence such as those that accompany Remembrance Day events.

How exactly the library site was chosen is but a fuzzy memory for the Legion members this reporter spoke with. What is known, however, is that the Legion did not choose the site and it was never their desire to have it move from Esling Park to begin with.

It was 1997 when the war memorial was erected on its new site. The reason for the move was for the construction of Esling Park Lodge on the North end of the park. According to seniors in the know, the building of the Esling Park Lodge on its current site was a no-no in itself. Apparently Mr. Esling willed the land to the city provided it remain a park for the enjoyment of Rosslanders. How it came to be that a lodge was built on what was deemed park land is a story for another day.

The site of the cenotaph in Esling Park as seen in the attached photo dated simply as “A day or two ago!” was directly across from the house opposite on the corner of Spokane and First Street.

“I don’t know why they even had to move it,” commented Stinson. “It wasn’t on the site of the lodge exactly, and even if they needed the space for construction they could have just moved the bloody thing over about ten feet and it would have been much better than where it is now.”

Esling Park was not the original site of the monument, however. That location, commissioned in 1921, was on the South Side of Columbia Avenue and Queen Street In between what is now Ross Vegas and the Nelson and District Credit Union. At that time, there was an ornate wrought iron railing cornered by four lamp posts around the memorial and it sat in front of a small gazebo housing an old hydraulic pump from one of the mines.

As described in the Rossland Miner, the initial unveiling was quite an event. “Long before the hour set for the unveiling ceremonies to begin, the space at the intersection of south side of Columbia Avenue and Queen Street was well filled with those who wished as a last tribute to the dead, to pay their respects in participating in the unveiling ceremonies.”

At 1:30 PM on November 11th 1921, the Great War Veterans’ Band left the armoury for the scene of the unveiling. They were followed by returned soldiers, numbering just 40, who were followed by the children of MacLean Elementary and Rossland High School. When the band reached the monument at Queen Street it was reported that the procession stretched back to Spokane Street and around the corner to First Avenue. The procession was reported to have been the largest turnout of “those attending schools” ever seen in the city.

Some years later, on an unknown date, the cenotaph moved across the street to the northeast corner of Queen and Columbia.

The second move down to the Esling Park location took place in October of 1948. After that, the Cenotaph remained in one place for just under a half century before being moved to its present site.

One of the primary concerns council raised on Monday was the cost of the move. At $10,000, it was noted that that the cost seemed prohibitive. One of the suggestions was that perhaps the relocation effort could be adopted as a community project and volunteers that have the necessary skills could chip in while others could donate money to the effort.

While a volunteer move would fit with Rossland’s character, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as how the money was initially raised 90 years ago to construct the memorial and then again later raised to improve it.

Initially, funds for the Memorial Shaft or Great Shaft, as it was then called, were appropriately derived from the commissions made on the sale of Victory Bonds by the Victory Bond campaign committee and aided by the City of Rossland. Not long after the erection, however, captured German trophies from the Great War were presented to Rossland by the Dominion War Department. The veterans held a celebration in honour of the captured German trophies on May 24th the year after the shaft went up and at that event they realized sufficient funds to go on with the work which was completed in the autumn of that year.

The improvements added included the four ornamental light standards of metal adorned on top with “frosted electric light globes” as reported at the time in the Rossland Miner. “When illuminated at night [it] presents a very attractive appearance.”

A building was also constructed next to the memorial to house the stolen German trophies.

As the iconic landmark now nears its 90th anniversary it appears that the travelling cenotaph will now once again be on the move, a fact much appreciated by Mr. Stinson and the Legion. Council voted unanimously in favour of moving the monument during the Columbia Avenue rebuild in 2012 and expects to have it completed “sometime late in the year,” according to city CAO Victor Kumar.

The hope now is that “sometime late in year,” means sometime before November 11th, 2012. With a bit of luck on their side, a few dollars and some community spirit, or perhaps another raucous money raising event (minus stolen foreign trophies) the monument to Rosslanders past who gave their lives for our freedom will finally be able to rest in peace.

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