A sobering monument commemorating those who have died in service for Canada, the National War Memorial stands in Confederation Square near Parliament Hill.
The War Memorial in Confederation Square
The most prominent of the many cenotaphs in the country, the National War Memorial has stood in Confederation Square for over 80 years. While originally dedicated as a memorial to those killed specifically during World War I, it has since been re-dedicated to all those who have lost their lives while serving in the Canadian military.
The memorial is located at 100 Elgin Street. It’s always open and free to visit no matter the day or time. The memorial stands in a large open section of the square. It is made up of bronze statues on a granite arch and pedestal. The Canadian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was placed directly in front of the memorial in the year 2000.
Multiple events are held at the War Memorial, including a large Remembrance Day ceremony every November. As well, a couple members of the Canadian military stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on a daily basis between April and November.
The History of the Memorial
After World War I a competition was held to select a design for a new national monument to be built in Ottawa. Vernon March of England submitted the winning design. March’s family had their own foundry so they created the bronze statues themselves.
Though March himself died in 1930 his siblings later finished the project and shipped the statues to Canada. The rest of the memorial was designed by a Canadian company and construction finished in 1938.
The bronze statues on the monument include 22 people passing under the archway. They represent all the different roles in the military during World War I. This includes everything from infantry to pilots, sailors, nurses and more. On top of the arch are two more statues, those of the Greek goddesses Demeter and Nike. Those two figures represent peace, liberty and victory.
The official opening ceremony took place in May 1939 with the memorial dedicated by King George VI (who is Queen Elizabeth’s father). Ironically, World War II began just four months later. Around 100,000 people attended this opening ceremony.
The memorial originally only represented World War I. That changed in 1982 when the monument was re-dedicated to add the years of World War II and the Korean War. Another re-dedication that saw the years of the Second Boer War and the war in Afghanistan added took place in 2014. More broadly, the memorial is also now officially dedicated to all those who have served.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a common style of national monument world-wide. They represent all those who have died in combat for their country, especially those whose bodies were never identified.
The Royal Canadian Legion pushed for the creation of a Canadian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier around the turn of the last century. Their request was granted in 2000 and the remains of an unidentified soldier buried in Vimy, France, was moved to Ottawa. There, the body received a state funeral ceremony before it was placed in the tomb in front of the War Memorial monument.
The tradition of servicemen standing guard at the tomb began in 2007. The site has also become a focal point during Remembrance Day ceremonies. Every year, the tomb is showered with poppies placed by visitors. Other items like flowers and photos are sometimes placed there as well. Similarly, the tomb is usually covered in small Canadian flags every July 1st.
Places to Visit Nearby
The National War Memorial stands in the middle of the most historic and ceremonial area in Ottawa. Confederation Square itself is a National Historic Site of Canada. It’s also home to the Valiants Memorial. This is another monument that is made up of 14 life-size statues of famous Canadian military figures.
Surrounding Confederation Square are a number of major sites. These include Parliament Hill, the Senate of Canada Building, the Château Laurier Hotel, the National Arts Centre and the Central Post Office, among others. The Rideau Canal is also adjacent to part of the square.
Basically, if you are interested in the history of Ottawa and Canada as a whole, there are many places within easy walking distance of the War Memorial that are worth visiting.
For more information about the National War Memorial visit the Veteran Affairs Canada website.
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