Connect with us

City of Red Deer

The rich and sobering history of Red Deer’s “Unknown Soldier”

Published

9 minute read

The origins of Red Deer’s beautiful Cenotaph date back to the end of WWI.  The statue of the Unknown Soldier is a provincial historic site.  In this article, historian and author Michael Dawe helps us understand the rich history of this monument and reminds us all of the sacrifices of our forebearers.  Enjoy the photo gallery showing the changes to the Cenotaph and its surroundings over the years. 

The Cenotaph by Michael Dawe (originally published Nov. 9, 2019)

There are many memorials around the City of Red Deer to honour those who served and those who lost their lives during a time of war. The main community memorial is the Cenotaph, the statue of the Unknown Soldier that stands in the centre of Ross Street in the heart of downtown Red Deer.

The origins of the Cenotaph go back to the end of the First World War. That conflict had been a searing experience for Red Deer. 850 young men and women from the City and surrounding districts had enlisted. Of these, 118 lost their lives. Of those who returned, many had suffered terrible wounds and faced a lifetime of ill health and suffering.  Hence, it was extremely important to the community that a fitting and very special memorial be created.

On December 18, 1918, five weeks after the end of the War, the Central Alberta local of the Great War Veterans Association (forerunner of the Royal Canadian Legion) organized a large public meeting to discuss the creation of such a memorial.  Three proposals were initially made. The first was to construct a pyramidal monument of river cobblestones in the centre of the City. The second was to construct a community hall and recreation facility next to City Hall. The third was to purchase the old Alexandra (Park) Hotel and turn it into a community centre.

After considerable discussion, a fourth proposal was adopted. It was decided to build a monument rather than a community centre.  However, at the suggestion of Lochlan MacLean, it was also decided that this monument be in the form of a statue of a soldier, mounted on a pedestal, rather than a cobblestone pyramid or obelisk.

Major Frank Norbury, an architectural sculptor at the University of Alberta and a veteran of the War, was commissioned to carve the statue. He came up with the concept of carving the Unknown Soldier as he was coming off active duty on the front line. He was to face west, toward home and peace. He was also to be positioned towards the C.P.R. station from which most of the soldiers had left Red Deer for the War.

This latter point was one of the greatest controversies about the Cenotaph. City Council and a few others wanted it in the centre of the City Square (now City Hall Park). However, the majority wanted it facing directly towards the station and in the middle of Ross Street, Red Deer’s busiest thoroughfare, so that it would be a constant reminder of the sacrifices of the War.

Meanwhile, fundraising for the project commenced, but proved quite a challenge. Post-war Red Deer faced one of the worst economic depressions in its history. However, despite the general shortage of money, by the following summer more than half of the $6200 needed had been raised.  Unfortunately, Red Deer City Council decided that given its financial situation, it could not contribute any money to the project. This decision reinforced the opinion of the Memorial Committee that Council’s wish to have the Cenotaph in the middle of the City Square should be ignored.

There were still a lot of hard feelings about that lack of official City participation. Eventually, City Council agreed to build a boulevard in the middle of Ross Street, west of 49 Avenue, as a site for the Cenotaph. A decision was also made to place street lights at either end of that boulevard to provide nighttime illumination of the spot.

There was another debate regarding the proper means of recording the names of those killed in the War. Some wanted tablets placed on the pedestal. However, the Memorial Committee was worried about having a complete and accurate list. Finally, it was agreed to have two scrolls prepared, one with the names of those who had served and one with the names of those who had lost their lives. Both scrolls were put into a copper tube and placed in a cavity in the pedestal.

On September 15, 1922, the Cenotaph was officially unveiled. To the delight of the community, Governor General Lord Byng of Vimy agreed to come and do the honours. Lord Byng was a hero of one of Canada’s most significant military victories, the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Vimy was also a victory that had also come with very heavy loss of life, both locally and nationally.

At the time of the official unveiling, it was reported that the Cenotaph was the first sculpture war memorial in Alberta. Once the official dedication was completed, the monument was placed into trust with the City on behalf of those who had contributed to its creation.

The Cenotaph was rededicated in 1949 to include remembrance of those who served and lost their lives in the Second World War. A plaque signifying that designation was added to the pedestal. After the completion of the new City Hall Park and the Memorial Centre in the early 1950’s. there was a push to relocate the Cenotaph from its location on Ross Street to either the centre of City Hall Park or a new site in front of the Memorial Centre. However, a plebiscite was held in 1953 in which the citizens of Red Deer voted to keep the Cenotaph were it was.

Another plaque was added in 1988 in memory of those who served and died in the Korean Conflict. At the same time, through the efforts of some dedicated members of the public, special lighting was added to ensure that the Cenotaph was highly visible at night.

There were new proposals in the 1990’s to relocate the Cenotaph to City Hall Park. However, Charlie Mac Lean, son of Lochlan MacLean and one of the last surviving people to have actually built the Cenotaph, offered the opinion that he did not think that the monument could be safely relocated.

In 2006, the Cenotaph was extensively cleaned and repaired. City Council then successfully applied to have the Cenotaph designated as a Provincial Historic Site. In 2010-2011, a beautiful Veterans’ Park was created around the Cenotaph, to enhance it and to make it more accessible to the public.  Moreover, eight interpretive panels were created to let people know the full significance of Red Deer’s official war memorial. They give the stories of those who served in the Boer War, First World War, Second World War, Korean Conflict, the Afghanistan War and all the peace-keeping and peace-making missions in which Canadians have been involved.

Lest We Forget.

Michael Dawe

Here are some other local history stories you might enjoy

The Battle of Vimy Ridge Described by Michael Dawe

Armistice Day 11/11/1918 from a Red Deer perspective in pictures and story

 

Todayville is a digital media and technology company. We profile unique stories and events in our community. Register and promote your community event for free.

Follow Author

More from this author

2024 City Councilor By-Election

Get to know your candidates for city council: Calvin Yzerman

Published on

From elections.reddeer.ca

About the Candidate

I know Red Deer. I have lived here since 1961. This by-election is a somber occasion for myself and many others in our community as we have lost an irreplaceable community friend and Councillor. Red Deer has been good to our family and has a lot going for it. Our choice location in Central Alberta along the Queen Elizabeth II Highway makes Red Deer an ideal hub to service the rest of Alberta and Western Canada. The Regional Airport is a short drive away. Thank you for taking the time to vote.

Candidate Priorities

Housing and Homelessness I am hopeful that all levels of Government can come together to solve this urgent problem. Non-profits, and private-sector housing providers can also play a role in developing innovative and sustainable affordable housing projects.
Crime Prevention and Policing Everyone wants a safe community and crime prevention is a top concern. I support Red Deer’s Annual Policing Plan. I was recently reminded by members of the Social Diversion Team to call 403-406-2200 if you see someone need of non-emergency support.
Infrastructure and Utilities Infrastructure and Utilities is one of those areas that City residents rely upon everyday. I feel that the City of Red Deer has a strong Strategic Plan in place to address new and aging infrastructure. Spring road repairs could improve.
Public Transit I feel that The City of Red Deer Transit Network Improvements Project was well designed to address transit service in Red Deer. I also support a modern safe high speed train connection between Alberta’s major Cities.
Restoration of Red Deer EMS Dispatch Our local Red Deer EMS Dispatch model was top notch and service suffered greatly when the Province consolidated EMS dispatch. I would strongly urge the Province to restore EMS dispatch to its former model.

Contact Information

* Candidate profiles are published as submitted. Please note: The City does not operate, review, endorse or approve any external site listed here and is not responsible or liable for any damages arising from linking to or using these sites.

Red Deer voters will have many opportunities to cast their ballot in this By-Election. Advance Vote will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. from April 18 to 20. Voters will be able to select one of three Advance Vote locations at Parkland Mall, Baymont by Wyndham Red Deer or Westerner Park. The same voting stations will be open for voters from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on By-Election Day, April 22.

Information about the By-Election, including details about where to vote, who is running and how to vote is available on the Elections website at elections.reddeer.ca.

Continue Reading

2024 City Councilor By-Election

Get to know your candidates for city council: Liam (The Level) Milaney

Published on

From elections.reddeer.ca

About the Candidate

I was born in Red Deer and grew up between West Park in Red Deer and our Farm west of Bowden. I have been living in Downtown Red Deer for the last 20 years in a historic home built in 1904. In 2022 I ran for City Council because of my Love for the City and watching the history being erased and culture harder to access. I am running now and will continue to do so because I see how with my experience and forward-thinking approach, we can make Red Deer a better place for all.

Candidate Priorities

1. Managing the Fiscal Budget We are still reeling because of the pandemic. I believe however that there needs to be more scrutiny when it comes to city spending. Management of projects and infrastructure, as well as finding ways to promote businesses to choose Red Deer.
2. Crime and Harm Prevention Firstly, we need to provide more affordable and facilitated housing opportunities. To get people who wish to be off the streets, providing a safe place to live and grow a family.
3. Incentivizing Commercial/Industrial Business The fact of the matter is that we need to start transitioning to more renewable sources of power and power production, now. I see these industries hybridizing in a cohesive way. Thusly reducing unemployment and increasing city growth.
4. Encourage Downtown Growth and Community Our core used to be a destination! Not a place to avoid. For this, many factors come into play, including: the rise in the cost of living, unemployment, the way the city has built a corridor for the homeless and transient population.
5. The Protection of Red Deer’s Cultural History We are still reeling because of the pandemic. I believe however that there needs to be more scrutiny when it comes to city spending. Management of projects and infrastructure, as well as finding ways to promote businesses to choose Red Deer.

Contact Information

* Candidate profiles are published as submitted. Please note: The City does not operate, review, endorse or approve any external site listed here and is not responsible or liable for any damages arising from linking to or using these sites.

 

Red Deer voters will have many opportunities to cast their ballot in this By-Election. Advance Vote will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. from April 18 to 20. Voters will be able to select one of three Advance Vote locations at Parkland Mall, Baymont by Wyndham Red Deer or Westerner Park. The same voting stations will be open for voters from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on By-Election Day, April 22.

Information about the By-Election, including details about where to vote, who is running and how to vote is available on the Elections website at elections.reddeer.ca.

Continue Reading

Trending

X