Canada has a long tradition of responding to international need, and the National War Memorial commemorates the sacrifice that many Canadians have made in times of armed conflict. Remembering and honouring these sacrifices unites Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

The National War Memorial is instantly recognizable: 22 bronze figures marching through a giant granite arch, it is featured on Canadian $10 bills and on some 25-cent coins. Every Remembrance Day, the governor general and the prime minister lay wreaths at its base. This ceremony connects Canadians at more than 6,000 local war memorials across the country, and reflects our many smaller and more personal acts of remembrance.

The monument stands in the centre of Confederation Square, a short distance from the Parliament Buildings, in the very hub of downtown Ottawa. The square is a central public gathering place, where many ceremonies and celebrations occur. Originally, the Gatineau Hills were considered for the location of the National War Memorial. However, then-prime minister Mackenzie King wanted it to be in the heart of Canada’s Capital, where everyone could see and access it. Confederation Square was created to receive the memorial.

The sculptural ensemble is entitled The Response. The memorial was created in the wake of the First World War, during which time Canada responded to Great Britain’s call for aid. Artist Vernon March did not live to see the memorial’s completion. After his death in 1930, his family completed his complex sculptural plan, and attended the opening ceremonies in the spring of 1939, a few short months before Canada would once again march to war at Britain’s request.

All branches of the service are represented, from infantrymen pulling a large cannon, to airmen and seamen. Other figures are given equal importance, however: the nurses who cared for war’s casualties, and the expert foresters who cut wood for railways and cleared terrain for airfields. Perched at the apex of the arch itself, two winged figures symbolizing peace and liberty reign over all.

The First World War was a turning point in Canadian relations with Great Britain and the world. Following the war, during the 1919 Treaty of Versailles negotiations, Prime Minister Robert Borden insisted that Canada have the right to its own seat at the table, and to sign the treaty independent of Great Britain.

Originally honouring those who had served in the First World War, the National War Memorial was rededicated in 1981 to commemorate the response of all Canadians who have served our country in times of conflict and peace.

The National War Memorial is close to many other buildings and monuments in the Capital that commemorate Canada’s role in war and peace, including the Peace Tower (and the Memorial Chamber), the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument, and Reconciliation: the Peacekeeping Monument.

Next to the National War Memorial is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Unknown Soldier fell at Vimy Ridge during the First World War and was buried in France near the battle site. The anonymity of the fallen soldier is important; he symbolizes all Canadians — past, present and future — who have given, or will give, their lives in military service.

In 2000, the soldier’s body was flown to Canada on a Canadian Forces plane with an honour guard, a group of veterans, a chaplain and two youth representatives. The body lay in state for three days and was then interred in Confederation Square’s upper plaza. The sarcophagus is made from Quebec granite, and features bronze relief sculptures of a sword, helmet and leaves, the same as those found on the altar at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in Vimy, France. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is depicted on a 2008 commemorative 25-cent piece.
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