Memorial Square: The Dundas Soldiers’ Memorial

The Dundas Soldiers’ Memorial Monument was unveiled to a large crowd on the afternoon of Sunday, December 11th 1921. The ceremony took place at the statue’s original location on the south side of the intersection of King and Sydenham Streets. The spot had previously been known as Market Square, but was referred to as Memorial Square from then on. The unveiling was performed by Lieut.-Governor of Ontario Henry Cockshutt and followed a grand procession in which the speakers and soldiers had marched down King Street from the Dundas Armoury. Mayor E.J. Mahony presided over the ceremony which saw hymns sung, the dedication read, and several addresses made.

Discussion about the need for a Soldier’s Memorial in Town began shortly after the Armistice of 1918. The effects of the First World War had been keenly felt in Dundas, with many local men and women enlisting to serve on battlefields or in military hospitals overseas. The Town raised thousands of dollars for the war effort through Bond Drives, and Agnes Lennard, whose family operated the local Lennard Knitting Mills, was even honoured by the King of Belgium for her work in aiding refugees. By the end of the war, dozens of Dundas soldiers had lost their lives, many in the famous battles of Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. The people of Dundas felt strongly that their sacrifice be commemorated.

In 1920 an official Soldiers’ Memorial Committee was formed with E. A. L. Clarke, a respected Sunday School teacher and caretaker at the Armoury, as its Secretary. The Committee set about securing the efforts of the leading local church groups, fraternal organizations, and worker’s unions, to raise funds for the initiative. Canvassers were sent out door-to-door to collect money for the campaign. The Committee was clear that it wanted the donations to come from every man, woman and child in Dundas, thus truly making the construction of the Monument a community effort. The initial fundraising campaign was largely successful, with an average donation of $50, though many families could only afford to contribute a dollar or two. In many cases young children donated a few cents in their own name to the pot. However, as the cost of the proposed monument began to balloon beyond their goal of $6,500, the Committee found themselves forced to ask the community for more and more donations.

The Committee had commissioned noted Ottawa sculptor Hamilton MacCarthy to create the bronze statue atop the Monument. It was based on the design of a Boer War Monument that MacCarthy had made for the City of Brantford a few years earlier. Initial plans were to place the Memorial in the Dundas Driving Park. After much debate it was decided that the King and Sydenham location would be better as it would guarantee that the Monument would be seen by more people, and would also help to beautify an area of Town which was at that time considered old-fashioned and plain. It was decided that the Monument would sit atop a granite pedestal and be surrounded by a flower bed maintained by the Dundas Horticultural Society. Four five-light lamp posts were installed to illuminate the statue at night. Inside the pedestal was placed a time capsule containing a list of Dundas soldiers, a 1921 voter’s list, pictures of the Town, and buttons from men’s uniforms. A large plaque was attached to the pedestal listing the names of the Dundas men who had lost their lives in the First World War and the Boer War. The Committee had also planned the unveiling for November 11th 1921, but delays in finishing the statue made it necessary to postpone an extra month. Picture postcards of the completed Memorial were sold to pay back the money that was still owed on its construction. By the time of it’s completion the Monument cost the Town just over $7,000.

As a reflection of Dundas’ community spirit the unveiling was a cause for celebration, but the event itself was touched by a very real sense of sadness and loss. Four days after the ceremony, an article in the Dundas Star summed up the hopes that the Town had for their new Monument:
” While the beautiful memorial which was unveiled on Sunday now brings with it the thought of personal sorrow for the loss of those who were loved and admired, through countless years in the future history of the town, it shall remain as commemorative of the glory and gallantry of men who so bravely died in the cause of righteousness and freedom. As the years pass, and the present generation one by one pass away and new faces replace those of today, the feeling of personal sorrow will go with the years. But the coming generations, as patriotic Canadians and admirers of the good and the brave and true will ever have a feeling of pride and admiration for the heroic men who in the years of the past nobly fought and bravely died that Canada should remain a land of freedom.”

Since that day the Monument has continued to change in order to reflect the continuing march of time. More plaques, commemorating the Second World War, the Korean War, and the War in Afghanistan, have been added throughout the decades. In November of 1963, in order that the street be widened and provide access to the modern Fire Hall to the south, the Monument was moved from King and Sydenham to a new home outside the Dundas Armoury. In both locations it has been the centre of the local Remembrance Day parade and ceremony which were held every year from 1921 until 2020, when it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Share your Story