Author Tags: Art, War
It wasn't exactly Steve Fonyo running all the way across Canada, or Rick Hansen doing his Man in Motion tour.
But Alan MacLeod's Great Canadian War Statue Search required persistence and stamina.
Having had a great uncle who fought in World War I, Nova Scotia-born-and-raised Alan MacLeod of Victoria commenced an unprecedented odyssey in 2011, searching across Canada to document and showcase all military statuary erected between 1918 and 1929 that feature a figure of a Canadian soldier in bronze or stone.
His resulting compendium, Remembered in Bronze and Stone: Canada's Great War Memorial Statuary (Heritage $24.95), profiles 130 distinctive Great War memorials with family histories of the fallen and biographies of the craftsmen who made the statues.
Coeur de Lion MacCarthy's Winged Victory statues commissioned by the CPR for their rail stations in Montreal, Winnipeg, and Vancouver are perhaps the most recognizable. There are statues from each province, representative works by well-known sculptors such Alfred Howell in Ontario and New Brunswick; as well as statures by Sydney March and George William Hill; but most of the sculptors are unheralded. Many of the sculptors were unnamed artisans in Italy where many of the statues were made.
British Columbia has relatively few statues erected in comparison to the number of those who served--but the B.C. statues are no less interesting.
The book's cover shows Emanuel Hahn's "grieving soldier" statue located at Fernie, B.C. It's one of ten similar statues credited to Hahn's design that can be found across the country. The original that first appeared at Westville, Nova Scotia in 1921 was something of a Cadillac, a status symbol for communities who wanted to show how much they cared, but only one other copy was bronze like the original. The other eight were granite, carved by craftsmen using the same scale and Hahn design. Some have since suffered due to preservation issues.
"The imitations are not all equally well executed," MacLeod writes, "and not every carver felt obligated to pay slavish homage to the Hahn original."
MacLeod also recalls how 7,000 people gathered in New Westminster on Remembrance Day in 1922 to witness the dedication of a new Board of Trade-sponsored war memorial representing a bronze, wounded soldier wearing a head bandage and no helmet. With his bayonet mounted, he peers over his soldier, seemingly ready for action, but also contemplative. A soldier named Major Jackson envisaged the design and A. Fabri was the Italian sculptor who produced it. The event was the subject of a Saturday Night magazine article.
"The figure wears the green patina typical of bronzes exposed to the elements for an extended time," MacLeod writes, "a patina that only enhances its effect. Because it is bronze rather than marble, the head-bandaged soldier of New Westminster retains all of its 1922 physical integrity--it is as vivid, evocative and impressive as it was on the occasion of its unveiling."
The striking bronze soldier on a granite base at the northeast corner of the B.C. Legislature grounds is credited to Sydney March (1876-1968). We learn he was one of eight siblings who were sculptors, including Vernon March who was chiefly commissioned to undertake a World War I memorial in Ottawa that was commenced in 1926 and not completed until it was finally dedicated by King George VI in 1939--just before World War II was started.
"Sidney March's Victoria soldier takes a back seat to none of his other sculptures," MacLeod writes. "The soldier is unique--in contrast to most of his stone and bronze comrades across the country, he is not handsome, he is not young, his face is one only a mother could love.
"He is a worn, weathered, ancient-looking infantryman wielding his Lee-Enfield, bayonet mounted, ready to deal with the enemy. Weather-beaten face notwithstanding, this is one of the finest war-monument soldiers in Canada."
Approximately 60,000 Canadians died as a result of the so-called Great War. For a new generation of Canadians who have never heard of Ypres, the Somme, Vimy and Passchendaele, Remembered in Bronze and Stone is a novel approach to education.
The project began after MacLeod came across a remarkable bronze statue in Westville, Nova Scotia. MacLeod became curious about finding similar statues, gathering materials for illustrated talks he presented to members of the Western Front Association and other organizations. After a talk for the WFA's Pacific Coast branch, military historian-turned-novelist Sidney Allinson of Victoria urged him to write a book. Allinson became an enthusiastic supporter along with two other significant and prolific B.C. authors who are WFA members, Wayne Ralph, who served as a critical reader, and Barry Gough, helped him find his publisher.
Alan Livingstone MacLeod studied English at Dalhousie University and worked in Nova Scotia and British Columbia in the field of labour relations prior to retirement. 978-1-77203-152-2
Qennefer Browne, daughter of Emanuel Hahn, one of the main artists described in Alan MacLeod's book on monumental sculpture, wrote this unusually sophisticated reader's response:
It is a wonderful accomplishment. So carefully structured and planned. There have been many books written, but you chose a certain focus, just the monuments, then also the context in each community and at least one personal detailed memoir of one of the fallen individuals being commemorated.
I appreciated especially the authorial spotlight on each sculptor in turn, to reveal their individual backgrounds and then finally to critique the mood and message conveyed by each artist’s work. So many EXCELLENT photos included, to illustrate your analysis. It was especially valuable too, to have a profile of the two stone-carving companies and the bronze foundry. I have often wondered about the fabrication. To think that there was a capable foundry in Toronto in those days – many years passed before the arrival of Artcast in Georgetown, with its topnotch skills in lost-wax casting.
As a person familiar with monumental sculpture, I could readily distinguish the variation in skill and technique from one artist to another. But you went far beyond that in your analysis. The most complex and masterful sculptures did not necessarily meet your objective. Allward’s melodramatic allegories and Hill’s menacing warriors did not convey the spiritual message you sought from a simplistically patriotic era.
I am very grateful for the way Emanuel is given a climactic place in your procession of memorials. For one thing, I found it very helpful to see you begin with a map of Canada, the big picture, and a meticulous documentation of where all the individual monuments are. When I was a child, the Great War era had gone so far by that my parents spoke to me very little of that time in their lives. I was dimly aware of memorials but never Where. The first major book from modern times, To Mark Our Place, was quite a revelation. But it was not clear to me how many dozens of Hahn monuments there could be nor how far afield.
You have shown me with your disciplined overview that there were really only a few basic Hahn designs, beginning with an “Allward-esque” figure with drapery instead of clothing, and ending with the mourning infantryman at his buddy’s grave. I have seen some of the copied variations in towns here and there and knew they were (sometimes considerably) lesser imitations.
You have done something especially restorative for Emanuel’s much more restrained version of mourning and memorial, in pointing out the human emotions he expresses and relating the background of his ostracism as a German-born Canadian. The cover with the single figure with the mountains in the distance is stunning – some of the formal municipal settings can be so rigid by comparison. I am very grateful on behalf of Emanuel to have seen him serve to bring your search to a meaningful conclusion, as you worked upward to his soldier as the pinnacle of your story.
A word about your writing – you describe yourself somewhere as an amateur, but your descriptive style is very appropriate. It is not flippantly journalistic, yet you can express colloquial opinions with uninhibited vigour. But mainly, your writing reminds me of books from that time a century ago, when authors were more poetic and classical in choice of phrasing and mood. In so many subtle ways, the book is a “compleat” structure – every aspect contributes equally to a coherent, well-designed whole. It is a manly book about men, yet with a feminine perception of intrinsic feeling.