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. Confeder Read More
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.

© National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.

Photo of National War Memorial, 1939

The National War Memorial was dedicated on May 21, 1939, by His Majesty King George VI. The artist who created the memorial, Vernon March, died before its completion, and the work was finished by his family, pictured here.

Unknown
Library and Archives Canada
c. 1939
C-6545
© Library and Archives Canada. All Rights Reserved.


Photo of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, 2006

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is covered in poppies, following Remembrance Day ceremonies in 2006. It has become tradition to leave poppies on the tomb, immediately after the ceremony.

Reproduced with the permission of Veterans Affairs Canada
2006
© Veterans Affairs Canada, 2010.


“It can hardly be expected that we shall put 400,000 or 500,000 men in the field and willingly accept the position of having no more voice and receiving no more consideration than if we were toy automata.”
— Sir Robert Borden, January 4, 1916

Brigadier-General Alexander Ross, a battalion commander at Vimy Ridge, watched the Canadian troops move out: ”It was Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific on parade. I thought then...that in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.”

Consider these two quotes. What was the importance of Vimy Ridge, not just to the war effort, but also to Canada as a nation? The last living Canadian veteran of the First World War has now passed away, taking away all living memory of that war. What is the value in studying a war that happened almost 100 years ago? Write a short paper about the importance, for young Canadians, of remembering the First World War, and particularly Vimy Ridge.
It can hardly be expected that we shall put 400,000 or 500,000 men in the field and willingly accept the position of having no more voice and receiving no more consideration than if we were toy automata.”
— Sir Robert Borden, January 4, 1916

Brigadier-General Alexander Ross, a battalion commander at Vimy Ridge, watched the Canadian troops move out: ”It was Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific on parade. I thought then...that in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.”

Consider these two quotes. What was the importance of Vimy Ridge, not just to the war effort, but also to Canada as a nation? The last living Canadian veteran of the First World War has now passed away, taking away all living memory of that war. What is the value in studying a war that happened almost 100 years ago? Write a short paper about the importance, for young Canadians, of remembering the First World War, and particularly Vimy Ridge.

© National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.

When the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was unveiled in 2000, Veterans Affairs Canada created a poster for the event. Imagine that it’s 1939, and you must create a poster for the unveiling of the National War Memorial. Over 100,000 people came to that ceremony on May 21, 1939, and the King of England, George VI, addressed the crowd.
When the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was unveiled in 2000, Veterans Affairs Canada created a poster for the event. Imagine that it’s 1939, and you must create a poster for the unveiling of the National War Memorial. Over 100,000 people came to that ceremony on May 21, 1939, and the King of England, George VI, addressed the crowd.

© National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.

Remembering acts of heroism and sacrifice are important to individuals, communities, cities and nations. Divide into groups and research an individual, group or particular event that has directly affected your community. Once your group has selected the person or topic, design an appropriate memorial. Submit a plan for the memorial, including the best location for it — consider national or local — and how you propose to unveil it (e.g. What kind of ceremony will there be? What special guests or speakers will unveil the memorial?).
Remembering acts of heroism and sacrifice are important to individuals, communities, cities and nations. Divide into groups and research an individual, group or particular event that has directly affected your community. Once your group has selected the person or topic, design an appropriate memorial. Submit a plan for the memorial, including the best location for it — consider national or local — and how you propose to unveil it (e.g. What kind of ceremony will there be? What special guests or speakers will unveil the memorial?).

© National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.

Monuments are just one way we commemorate important individuals and events. Name five more ways. List examples of these sorts of commemorations. What are the pros and cons of commemorating in these ways? Collect examples of these commemorations and analyze their strengths and weaknesses. Make a classroom display of the commemorations. Extend the activity by creating “pitch” teams, small groups that “sell” the idea of the commemoration to a panel of judges, who will select the most effective pitch.
Monuments are just one way we commemorate important individuals and events. Name five more ways. List examples of these sorts of commemorations. What are the pros and cons of commemorating in these ways? Collect examples of these commemorations and analyze their strengths and weaknesses. Make a classroom display of the commemorations. Extend the activity by creating “pitch” teams, small groups that “sell” the idea of the commemoration to a panel of judges, who will select the most effective pitch.

© National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.

The “central square” is an important feature of most communities, whether villages or large cities. Where is the “meeting place” in your community? What are its important features and how is it used? Research Confederation Square in Canada’s Capital. When was it designed? What important events have happened there? Compare it to your community’s “central square.” What features are the same? Which are different? As a class, make a list on the board about your community’s city square. What improvements would you suggest for your square?

Extend the activity! In small groups, propose plans for an “improved” Confederation Square. What additions should be made, and why? Should anything be removed or relocated? Draw out your revised plans, using online maps and resources as a starting point.
The “central square” is an important feature of most communities, whether villages or large cities. Where is the “meeting place” in your community? What are its important features and how is it used? Research Confederation Square in Canada’s Capital. When was it designed? What important events have happened there? Compare it to your community’s “central square.” What features are the same? Which are different? As a class, make a list on the board about your community’s city square. What improvements would you suggest for your square?

Extend the activity! In small groups, propose plans for an “improved” Confederation Square. What additions should be made, and why? Should anything be removed or relocated? Draw out your revised plans, using online maps and resources as a starting point.

© National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • learn more about the act of commemoration;
  • discover the importance of the First World War and the Battle of Vimy Ridge to Canada’s nationhood;
  • identify times and places in their own lives where the act of remembrance is valued;
  • create a piece of persuasive media to attract visitors to an event

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