Additions to Kew Gardens Cenotaph honour mission in Afghanistan

The Kew Gardens Cenotaph was updated last week to add dates recognizing Canada’s mission in Afghanistan and also the Boer War. The cenotaph monument in Kew Gardens is one of the few that is actually owned by the City of Toronto. Photo by Paul Szabunio.

The Kew Gardens Cenotaph saw some additions made to it last week, just in time for Remembrance Day.

Erected by the Beaches Businessmen’s Association shortly after the end of the Second World War, the monument to those who served was originally inscribed only with the dates of the First World War and the Second World War.

It later had the dates of the Korean War, 1950 to 1953, added to it.

The cenotaph now also has Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, from 2001 to 2014, inscribed on it. During the Afghan mission, 158 Canadian soldiers lost their lives.

The dates were carved into the face of the cenotaph facing Queen Street East in the Beach on Wednesday, Oct. 27, by Sanderson Monuments. Also added were the dates of Canada’s service in the Boer War, which took place from 1899 to 1902.

The call to have the additional dates added was led by Beach residents Paul Szabunio, a Canadian army veteran who still serves as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the reserves, and Peter MacKay, former Minister of Defence in the Stephen Harper Conservative government.

Szabunio said MacKay approached him after the Remembrance Day ceremonies held at Kew Gardens in 2018 and observed that there was no mention of the Afghanistan mission on it and that the Boer War dates were also not there.

So MacKay and Szabunio started work on getting the cenotaph updated.

To do so they sought the help of Beach historian Gene Domagala and Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford.

One of the biggest challenges at the start was determining exactly who owned the cenotaph, said Szabunio. Many of them are owned by the organizations that erected them regardless of whether they stand on city-owned land or not.

However, in the case of the Kew Gardens Cenotaph it was determined that it is owned by the City of Toronto and is on public park property.

“Not only is the cenotaph in Kew Gardens a beautiful, powerful memorial for those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, it’s also a rarity for Toronto monuments,” explained Bradford. “It’s one of very few City-owned cenotaphs and part of the story of the new inscription is that it took some time to establish exactly who owned it.”

Bradford credited Domagala with helping establish that the cenotaph had been donated to the city by the Beaches Businessmen’s Association.

“After a lot of digging and some help from our resident local historian Gene Domagola, we learned that the cenotaph was donated to the City by the Beaches Businessmen’s Association shortly after the end of the Second World War,” said Bradford.

“Unsurprisingly, the paperwork from that era wasn’t around and we had to do some work to find a common sense solution where the City could take care of updating the monument given its location in a public park.”

Bradford said the work of city staff including Jane Arbour in Parks, and Sally Han and Catherine Machado was extremely valuable in getting the new inscriptions added to the cenotaph. “I also want to shout-out Peter Woodcock in my office who helped to bring it all together,” he said.

He said the desire to have this done and the co-operation between community members shows what can happen when everyone works towards a common cause.

“It’s a great feeling and sense of accomplishment when we can persevere and get an outcome that does justice to the community,” said Bradford.

“It means so much to get this done before Remembrance Day. It took an extra push to make sure the new inscriptions happened on time. The new memorialization for those who served in Afghanistan feel that little bit more impactful given everything else going on in 2020. While we can’t gather as a community this year, I know lots of residents visit the cenotaph privately to pay respects. There are many who were touched by the war in Afghanistan, in our own community and across the city. While we can never fully do justice to the sacrifices they made, it’s important we keep finding ways to keep their memories alive.”

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