Historical significance of the official opening of Veterans’ Park

On Sept. 22, at 10:30 a.m., the wonderful new Veterans’ Park, in the centre of Ross St. in Red Deer’s Downtown core, will be officially opened. The Cenotaph, which stands in the centre of Veterans’ Park, will be rededicated as well.

Red Deer and district has a long and very distinguished history of service in times of war and with peacekeeping missions. The first war in which local residents served and gave their lives was the Boer or South African War from 1899-1902.

A dozen men from what was then a tiny frontier community enlisted. Four men from Red Deer were killed in the conflict – Angus Jenkins, Archibald McNichol, Charles Cruickshanks and Thomas W. Chalmers.

The first three were members of the Lord Strathcona Horse and Jenkins was the first member of the regiment to be killed in action. Consequently, in 1901, Lord Strathcona offered a large sum of money to the community if it built a hospital in memory of those three young men.

A large plaque was erected in the hospital to permanently record this remembrance. The plaque was on display on the second floor of the Regional Hospital for many years before it was put into storage by Alberta Health Services.

In August 1914, the First World War broke out. It became one of the most cataclysmic events in human history. More than 850 young men from Red Deer and district fought in the great conflict. Of those, 118 lost their lives. A great many more returned home with terrible wounds to their bodies and minds.

Hence, it was extremely important to the community that a special memorial to this great sacrifice be created. Major Frank Norbury, an architectural sculptor and a veteran of the War was hired to carve a statue of the Unknown Soldier.

This soldier was made to look as he would when he was coming off active duty on the front line. He faced west, towards home and peace. He also faced towards the old C.P.R. station from which most of the soldiers had left for the War.

Governor General Lord Byng of Vimy officially unveiled the Cenotaph on Sept. 15, 1922. Scrolls with the names of those who had served and those who had lost their lives were placed in the pedestal.

Over the succeeding years, there was a continuing controversy about the location of the Cenotaph. City council and a few others wanted it located in the centre of what is now City Hall Park.

However, an overwhelming majority of those who paid for the creation of the Cenotaph wanted it facing directly towards the C.P.R. station and in the middle of Red Deer’s busiest street so that it would be a constant reminder of the sacrifices of the War. Moreover, because Red Deer City council did not contribute financially to the project, the Memorial Committee felt very strongly that City council should not have a say as to where the Cenotaph should be located.

Tragically, in 1939, most of the nations in the world again became embroiled in a global war. Once again, hundreds of young men and women from Red Deer and area answered the call to serve their country.

Before the Second World War was over, 52 lost their lives and many more were wounded. Moreover, 22 young men spent the great part of the war interned in Prisoner of War camps in Germany and Japan. The Cenotaph was rededicated in 1949 in remembrance of those who had served and lost their lives in this second great conflict.

In 1953, there was a strong effort to move the Cenotaph to either City Hall Park or in front of the Memorial Centre on 58 St. However, a public plebiscite was held and the citizens of Red Deer voted to keep the Cenotaph where it was.

In 1988, another plaque was added in memory of those who had served in the Korean Conflict and the three local men who had lost their lives while in service. At the same time, through the efforts of some dedicated members of the public such as Mary Fink and Morris Flewwelling, special lighting was added to ensure that the Cenotaph was highly visible at night.

Now, in the past year, the beautiful Veterans’ Park has been created around the Cenotaph, to enhance it and to make it more accessible. Moreover, eight interpretive panels have been created to let people know the full significance of Red Deer’s official war memorial. These panels give the stories of those who served in the wars and all the Canadian peacekeeping missions so that we never forget.