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Source: University of Toronto

City's oldest war memorial undergoing restoration

November 10, 2006

Commemorates U of T students who died defending Canada Nov 10/06 by Mary Alice Thring (about) (email)

As Remembrance Day ceremonies mark the contributions of Canadians who fought and died for freedom since the First World War, it is perhaps appropriate to pause and remember others who have stood on guard for the country. The oldest free-standing monument in Toronto commemorates U of T students who died defending Canada before Confederation. The Canadian Volunteer Monument, located on the west side of Queenís Park Crescent behind U of Tís Morrison Pavilion, is being restored by the City of Toronto.

"This is a part of U of Tís and the countryís history that deserves to be respected" said Stan Szwagiel, U of T manager of grounds services. "The monument is owned by the City of Toronto, and we are pleased to see this conservation project is now underway."

The monument to the Canadian Volunteers was erected in 1870. The shadow of the American Civil War had extended into Canada, and the threat to British North America was very real. As a result, militias assembled across the colony, and Professor Henry Croft, for whom Croft Chapter House is named, organized the University Rifle Corps in the early 1860ís.

Following the Civil War, a group of Irish-Americans formed the Fenian Brotherhood, whose intent was wresting Irish independence from Britain by capturing Canada. Between 1866 and 1871, the Fenians conducted raids from Manitoba to New Brunswick. The largest raid took place on the Niagara Frontier on June 2, 1866 and a small band of Canadian volunteers were defeated at the battle of Ridgeway. Three University College students, Malcolm Mackenzie, I.H. Mewburn, and William Tempest, were killed.

According to Martin Friedland in The University of Toronto: A History, the bell in the great tower of University College tolled every minute until their bodies were brought back to the university. In addition to the Volunteers monument, they are commemorated with a memorial window in the East Hall of University College.

The Canadian Volunteer Monument by American artist Robert Reid has succumbed to environmental conditions and neglect. Reid, who was the youngest member of the influential group Ten American Painters, was known primarily for his paintings of the female figure, and his commissioned murals include the White City in Chicago, and works in the Boston State House, the Library of Congress and many other private institutions. The monument is made of sandstone, with marble figures and limestone steps, porous materials that have suffered from the effects of weather and pollution. Several early elements including swords, decorative urns, and a wrought iron fence have long since disappeared.

"The memorial is in poor condition and urgently requires intervention before what remains of Robert Reidís artwork is lost forever" said Sandra Lougheed, public art conservator in the culture division of the city of Toronto. "We are taking a conservative but thorough approach. The intent is to preserve as much of the original material as possible and at the same time providing long term durability."

The conservation and restoration project is being done in phases and completion is expected to take at least a year. The city is working with Spencer Higgins Architect Inc. of Toronto, with the conservation working being carried out under the supervision of masonry conservator Trevor Gillingwater of Montreal. Completion of the work is anticipated for fall 2007.



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