All of Allward’s memorials pay attention to the tragedy (rather than the
glory) of war and the grief that follows. Jane Urquhart
Like me, you may have walked past Stratford’s Cenotaph, in Memorial Gardens
overlooking the Avon River, while sparing only a cursory glance upwards at the two,
over life-size bronze figures atop its base. Go back. Take a closer look.
Stratford erected this memorial in the aftermath of World War I. It now honours the
memories of our war dead from two subsequent wars.
It is the work of architect and sculptor Walter S. Allward (1876-1955), who shortly after completing this work began
his design for the project that would earn him international fame, the Canadian National
Vimy Memorial at Givenchy-en-Gohelle, France, about an hour’s drive from the Franco-
Belgian border. i
Author Jane Urquhart has been fascinated by Allward and Stratford’s memorial for over
twenty years. Her 2001 novel, The Stone Carvers (a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller
Prize, the Governor General’s Award and the Man Booker Prize) resolves in the making
of the Vimy Memorial. In 2016 she published A Number of Things, a bicentenary project
that evokes Canada through fifty artefacts, one of which is Stratford’s Cenotaph. She
writes of it there that, “All of Allward’s memorials pay attention to the tragedy (rather
than the glory) of war and the grief that follows. The two bronze figures on the plinth
combine strength with sorrow.” ii This is a far more humanist interpretation, recognizing
both the anguish of the victims and the sadness of their mourners, than the official one
that proclaims, “The central idea of the memorial is the supremacy of right over brute
The Power of Monuments: Whose story is told?
Important questions about who is “right,” whose story is told and whose body is
memorialized (and how) have been central to recent disturbances across North America
that have seen monuments to Civil War generals and Canadian Prime Ministers
defaced and toppled. Women and those encompassed by the initialisms BIPOC and
LGBTQ (acronyms that are themselves not universally agreed upon) have been
demanding to be seen while also protesting representations and monuments they
regard as racist and patriarchal, calling for their removal. Canada’s decision to put Viola
Desmond, a black Nova Scotian civil rights activist and businesswoman, on our $10 bill
and a recent petition by Stratford’s business owners to ban the display of the
Confederate flag, deemed a hate symbol, are responses to this wave of awareness. iv
“Statues are not just bodies in bronze, and monuments are not just stone pillars. They
instruct. They lift up the stories of those who are seen, dominate the stories of those
who are unseen, and too often propagate menacingly incomplete accounts of our
country’s past.” So begins the statement introducing the Andrew W. Mellon
Foundation’s $250 million grant program, inaugurated in October 2020, to “support
efforts to recalibrate the assumed centre of our national narratives to include those who
have often been denied historical recognition.” v
So, go back and look at the Cenotaph again.
“Did you lose a pal in the War?”
“By 1920 a group of citizens had come together to form the Soldiers War Memorial.
Working with the Stratford Chamber of Commerce, they collected $19,000 of the
$25,000 needed to build a cenotaph from citizens of Stratford, North Easthope, Downie
and Ellice Townships. The rest of the cost of the memorial was covered by grants from
the municipal councils.” vi In A Number of Things Urquhart quotes The Beacon Herald
headline announcing that appeal for donations: “Did you lose a pal in the War?” And
she follows this with some of the letters that accompanied donations from citizens who
“opened their hearts and their pocketbooks” with gifts of “one, two, occasionally ten
dollars.” “This is because of my friend Jim.” Or, “My brother died, though I came back.”
vii Urquhart also notes that it was due to the dedication, and good taste, of R. Thomas
Orr that Allward was invited to submit a design for the Stratford monument.
The site originally chosen for the memorial may have been selected to recognize those
citizens from outlying communities who contributed to its realization. An article
published on the occasion of the monument’s unveiling, on November 6, 1922, notes
that it was, “Situated on the corner of Ontario and Erie Streets … in the heart of the City
and at the converging point of four townships, Ellice, Downie, North and South
A photograph of the unveiling shows a crowd of thousands filling that
intersection. In 1961 the monument was re-located to its current site.
Acclaiming the Stratford Cenotaph
The Stratford Cenotaph has attracted the attention of writers, like Jane Urquhart, but
also of artists and ordinary residents. Urquhart’s A Number of Things is beautifully
illustrated by award-winning illustrator and graphic artist Scott McKowen. When I wrote
to McKowen to enquire after his image he responded with enthusiasm, generosity and
plenty of useful information. He told me that, “The Allward War Memorial is difficult to
photograph – mostly because it’s surrounded by trees, which makes it difficult to see the
silhouette of the two figures. The most effective photograph I’ve ever seen is one by
Lesley Walker-Fitzpatrick. She happened to be there on a foggy day, which deemphasizes the background environment.” ix
Walker-Fitzpatrick has also been fascinated by the cenotaph; she exhibits her ethereal photographs at Agora Gallery
(https://agoragallery.ca/). McKowen also pointed me to the exhibition that Jane Urquhart
and her painter husband, Tony, curated, Vimy and After: Drawings by Walter Seymour
Allward, which was prersented at four Ontario galleries, including Gallery Stratford,
during 2005 and 2006. x
In 2016 local resident Nancy Stotts Jones teamed up with B.C. resident Lorna Harris to
draw attention to and honour Allward’s work in Stratford. The project’s first phase
resulted in the installation of a bronze plaque, designed by Scott McKowen, with a text
describing the monument and praising Allward’s execution of it. McKowen explains, “It’s
extraordinary that we have it here in Stratford (can you imagine getting this approved by
any city council, even one a hundred years ago?!!?). Anyone discovering it in recent
decades could be forgiven for wondering about its history. The names of the soldiers
are there, but nothing about the statue itself or its creator. You have to look hard even to
find Allward’s signature.” But not any longer.
Phase 2, an even more ambitious project, will be launched early in 2021. Stotts Jones
explained that this will be a website comprising seven audio essays written by
distinguished Canadian scholars and read by noted Stratford actors, each one
accompanied by a slide show of 25-35 images. The essays will explore Canada’s
involvement in WW I, the subsequent “war memorial movement,” Allward’s career, his
relationship with Stratford and an aesthetic analysis of his Startford Cenotaph,
culminating with a recital of the name’s of the war dead, read by actors Lally Cadeau
and R. H. Thomson. Other narrators include Ruth Barrett, Richard Fitzpatrick, Peter
Mansbridge and Geraint Wyn Davies. A QR-code at the monument will allow visitors at
the site to access the website on their phones.
McKowen compares the Stratford Cenotaph – “astoundingly original, metaphorical,
allegorical” – with the “more or less interchangeable war memorials in towns across the
country, featuring a predictable statue of a WWI soldier holding his rifle.” Acknowledging
the current political climate regarding monuments, he favours “correcting the historical
record by exposing the wrongs of the past. Put up a new plaque from our more
enlightened perspective and the purpose of the monument changes, from glorifying war
to making sure it never happens again. This is surely how we learn from history…?”
Walter Allward’s papers are held by Queen’s University; Box 1, Folder 6 contain his
drawings for the “Stratford Memorial.” The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa also
holds material by Allward, 10 sculptures and 51 drawings, including studies for the
Stratford War Memorial. xi His drawings are also in the collection of the Art Gallery of
Ontario. A forthcoming book by Philip Dombowsky, Walter S. Allward: Life & Work, to be
published by Art Canada Institute (release date, April 9, 2021) may inform us further
about the Stratford Cenotaph. xii
i Canadian National Vimy Memorial,
ii Jane Urquhart. A Number of Things: Stories of Canada Told Through Fifty Objects (HarperCollins
Publishers Ltd., 2016), p. 88.
iii Stratford-Perth Archives’ Collection, Stratford War Memorial, https://www.historypin.org/en/stratford-perth-archives-s-collection/geo/43.370607,-80.980273,5/bounds/33.005773,-91.061946,52.225688,-70.8986/paging/1/pin/1097983
iv Galen Simmons. “City of Stratford to petition federal government to deem Confederate flag a hate
symbol,” The Beacon Herald (September 28, 2020), https://www.stratfordbeaconherald.com/news/localnews/city-of-stratford-to-petition-federal-government-to-deem-confederate-flag-a-hate-symbol.
v The Monuments Project: Our Commemorative Landscape, https://mellon.org/topics/monuments/
vi Stratford-Perth Archives’ Collection, Stratford War Memorial, https://www.historypin.org/en/stratford-perth-archives-s-collection/geo/43.370607,-80.980273,5/bounds/33.005773,-91.061946,52.225688,-70.8986/paging/1/pin/1097983
vii Urquhart. A Number of Things, p. 84-85.
viii “Stratford – “The Classic City,”” The Maple Leaf, The Canadian Club Magazine, Sussex, NB
ix This quote and subsequent quotations from Scott McKowen are from email correspondence with the
author, October 9, 2020.
x Vimy and After: Drawings by Walter Seymour Allward. (Gallery Stratford, 2005).
xi National Gallery of Canada, Library and Archives. Walter S. Allward Collection, Finding Aid.