A very special 89-year-old will celebrate the anniversary of his arrival in the Beach this Friday – and he’s been all spruced up for the occasion. The memorial to the men of Malvern Collegiate Institute who fell in the First World War is being rededicated after a restoration funded by the community.
The ceremony will take place in front of the school, 55 Malvern Ave., at 2 p.m. Relatives of some of the veterans named on the memorial will be in attendance, and two of them, Chris Commins and Shirley Jones, will speak on their behalf and read out the names of the fallen. Commins is the nephew of Capt. William Commins, and Jones is the niece of Private Wilfred Jones, whose sister Winnifred Newham will also attend.
It will be the culmination of a long-held wish for Beach resident Arnie Williamson, who promised his father he would see the statue in front of the school restored to its proper dignity, and initiated the Boys of Malvern project. After several false starts, the campaign began in earnest last year, when the Toronto District School Board agreed to contribute to the restoration and sponsor the application to Veterans Affairs Canada for a grant to pay for the services of a professional conservator. Key donations from PACE Credit Union and the Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council added to the many donations made by individuals that helped achieve the overall goal of $44,000. The work was started in late summer and completed in October.
Restoring the statue to its former glory was no easy task. Important parts needed replacing and reattaching: the right hand was broken, the sword was missing and lettering was falling off. Rust, egg and paint stains needed to be cleaned and the base was crumbling – a key safety concern for the school board on whose property the piece sits.
For starters, there was no information on who created it or where it came from. Conservator Susan Maltby’s research revealed that it was the work of Canadian artist Emanuel Hahn, who created hundreds of similar statues for Toronto’s Thomson Monument Company in the years following the war. In addition to his work as a sculptor, Hahn is famous for designing the Canadian 10-cent and 25-cent coins, with their distinctive images of the Bluenose schooner and a caribou.
Research also revealed there was a duplicate of the Malvern statue in Alvinston, Ont., that stands outside the Lambton County Library Headquarters. Maltby and her team travelled to the southwestern Ontario town to take measurements of the missing sword and get details on how it was fitted. Fortunately, the missing hand, which was discovered on the lawn of the school by neighbour Fran Perkins, had been kept safe in the school vault.
Sculptor Brett Davis was brought on to the project to replicate the sword and Neil Sanderson of the Sanderson Monument Company assisted with the refitting. The iron pin that originally held the hand was removed – it had been staining the stone for a number of years – and a new one in stainless steel was inserted.
Originally adorned with hand-carved lead letters, the memorial had been restored at some point using cast white metal letters attached using a variety of silicone sealants, which smeared onto the stone. Some letters were put on upside down and the original spacing was not respected. A number were missing or bent.
“Lead lettering is a skill few still possess,” said Maltby in a report to the committee. “Sanderson Monument is one of the few companies I know of who offer this service.” The decision was made to retain all of the cast letters that were securely fastened to the stone. Those in danger of falling off were removed and retained for the archive. Carver Eric Schop then drilled holes to receive the lead, which was pounded into place and the letters cut by hand.
The base of the statue, which sits on its perch outside the school’s second-floor library, was repaired and new concrete applied to keep it stable and secure.
Now that the guardian of Malvern has been restored, he will be honoured in a ceremony similar to the original, held on Friday, May 19, 1922. Colonel Henry Cockshutt, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, was on hand for the occasion along with hundreds of students, cadets, teachers and members of the Beach community. Lieutenant Colonel, the Rev. Canon William L. Baynes-Reed, DSO, minister at St. John the Baptist Norway Anglican Church, gave the dedication from a platform bedecked with Union Jacks.
“It expresses the spirit of Canadians in the war,” said then-principal Carl Lehmann. “Carved in imperishable granite the statue represents a stalwart youth whose right hand grasps a Crusader’s sword, while the left holds aloft a broken chain, symbol of the struggle to which our young men gave their lives. Freedom has been won at a tremendous effort, which has left its trace on the boy’s countenance. The attitude is not that of boastful triumph, but of grateful victory.”
As always, the focus of attention at the ceremony will be on the men who served Canada’s armed forces. Among the scheduled speakers is a representative of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery who will speak on behalf the veterans. Five of the 25 men named on the memorial were members of artillery regiments: Gunners Arthur Gorman, William Hird and Walter Hutchinson were Canadian artillery men and one, Lieutenant Arthur ‘Bud’ Sisley, served as a gunner for almost two years before joining the Royal Flying Corps in 1917.
Major John Archibald Trebilcock of Britain’s Royal Field Artillery, was awarded the Military Cross for his actions at Passchendaele in September 1917, when he kept his guns working despite heavy shelling by the enemy and put out blazing ammunition that had caught fire in one of the gun pits. He was killed near Arras on May 21, 1918, when the ammunition again caught fire and exploded.
A brief history of each man named on the monument has been published in the commemorative program, copies of which will be kept in the archives of the Malvern Red and Black Society. The restoration of the Malvern memorial and the research that went into it ensures that the original tribute to those killed in the 1914-1918 war will be preserved for future generations.