Calgary’s WWI memorial

Coeur_de-Lion_MacCarthy_WWI_memorial_Calgary_2014_July_28 (1024x683)

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The first assassination attempt of throwing a bomb into the back of their open car was unsuccessful, but did succeed in killing another officer instead. A few hours later the Archduke and his wife were shot at point blank range.

The great Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck, was quoted as saying near the end of his life that “One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.”

Sure enough, within the week the “Great War” had begun.

* * *

Today I want to recognize this historical fact by talking about the WWI memorial sculpted by Coeur de Lion MacCarthy [British/Canadian, 1881-1979] located in Calgary. It is currently located on a plinth placed directly in front of the Memorial Park Library (a.k.a. Carnegie Library) in Central Memorial Park. It has resided there since it was placed in the summer of 1924.

Sadly, I had a lot of information about this work as a result of my research on the Amazon sculpture, but unfortunately much of this information disappeared in a data loss about a year and a half ago. So some of this information is from memory, but most of it is fact.

Coeur de Lion MacCarthy [British/Canadian, 1881-1979] was one of 13 children of the British/Canadian sculptor Hamilton Thomas Carlton Plantagenet MacCarthy [1846-1931]. Since Hamilton MacCarthy, Sr. was sculptor of note, it is fair to say that the younger Coeur de Lion came by his skills honestly.

Couer de Lion is often remembered for his commemorative sculptures, especially of those from WWI. He did a number of variations on the theme of a single soldier with a rifle are also found in places such as Lethbridge, Alberta; Verdun, Québec; and Niagara Falls, Ontario.

A much more dramatic pose of a soldier with bayonet drawn and attacking is found in Trois-Rivières, Québec.

In addition to this the Canadian Pacific Railway also commissioned Coeur de Lion to produce a monumental allegorical sculpture of an angel carrying a soldier in an edition of three as a memorial to its 1115 employees who fell in active service during the war. These CPR commissioned sculptures were installed in Vancouver, BC (1921); Winnipeg, Manitoba (1922); and in Montréal’s Windsor Station (1923).

Another allegorical sculpture is also found in Knowlton (Lac Brome), Québec where the angel is standing behind the standing soldier with a rifle resting on his soldier as if it is protecting the soldier.

The Calgary sculpture was commissioned by the Col. Macleod Chapter of the I.O.D.E. (Independent Order of the Daughters of the Empire) and cast by the Henry-Bonnard Bronze Co. of Mt. Vernon, NY. The plaque below the sculpture states the following:

To the imperishable glory / Of / The men of this province / Who fought and died / For / Their King and Country / In the Great War / 1914-1918 / Erected by Col. Macleod Chapter, / I.O.D.E.

Inscription_on_plinth_of_Couer_de_Lion_MacCarthy_WWI_memorial_Calgary_2014_June_28 (1024x683)

The placement of this sculpture is interesting to me as I wrote a previous article and couple postings on the Amazon sculpture (which I believe was the first situated piece of public art) placed in the city during 1912. I am sure this fact will disappoint others who might suggest otherwise assuming that it would be the other sculpture located in the same park. This viewpoint is a fair assumption, even though it is not true. It is a moot point, for various reasons, namely because it was possibly proposed before the Amazon piece. However because of the commissioning process and funding it probably took longer to install, whereas the Amazon piece was most likely already cast at the time it was proposed. But this position would seem to exist because it is the only remaining public sculpture from that vintage on public display in Calgary and hence the phrase “out of sight, out of mind.” The work usually referenced this way (case in point) is the Boer War Memorial by Louis-Philipe Hébert (1850–1917) of an equestrian rider which I have discussed previously, both here and in print.

In a 1922 letter to a member of the I.O.D.E. from the long-term Superintendent of Parks, William Reader which states (in part):

Since attending the meeting of your committee in Friday, I have examined the proposed site for the War memorial in front of the Public Library, and would suggest that, instead of placing this in the position now occupied by the small statue, it be placed in the centre of the plot midway between the library entrance and the street, as I believe it would have a better appearance in that position.

I would suggest that this letter shows the future direction of the Amazon sculpture which was produced after a work by August Kiss [German, 1802-1865]. I will continue to argue that the original selection was a very good choice as a war memorial, and its location was very thoughtfully placed.

Unfortunately there were other circumstances at play. This Amazon sculpture most likely was damaged and disposed of at some unknown time, probably in the 1940s or 1950s, if I was to speculate. If you want to read more about this Amazon sculpture read my previous blog posting here.

I expect that we will be hearing more about the 100th anniversary in the weeks to come. One of the more interesting things that will take place in Calgary is the opening of a new thematic show Wild Rose Overseas: Albertans in the Great War which opens at The Military Museums this afternoon and will continue until December 15.

 

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2 comments on “Calgary’s WWI memorial

  1. Alan MacLeod says:

    Interesting and useful post found whilst searching in vain for an image of ‘Coeur de Lion MacCarthy’. You might be interested in seeing a Flickr set devoted to MacCarthy’s war memorial work:

    Coeur de Lion
    • Thank you for providing this link. I was probably aware of it or at least encountered it at some point. I would have done this prior to writing this article nearly a year ago. Regardless, it is an important link for those who may be doing further research on Coeur de Lion MacCarthy. So I thank you.

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