Roads of remembrance

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Author: Gordon Fulton
Date: Spring 1996
From: Manitoba History(Issue 31)
Publisher: Manitoba Historical Society
Document Type: Article
Length: 4,379 words

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In November 1918, Canadians turned from waging war to the duty of commemorating the dead. This traditionally meant statuary: thousands of statues, obelisks, cairns, steles, shafts, cenotaphs, and crosses were erected in Canada in the years following the war. There were those, however, who believed "the time when it was the custom to place bronze effigies of soldiers on granite pillars as an excuse for forgetting deeds of valour is happily past." (1) They promoted instead practical memorials such as hospitals, schools, halls, and libraries. These memorials were "designed with a view to their being of service to the communities in which they will be erected." (2) From this school of thought came the idea for Roads of Remembrance.

Characteristically, these Roads of Remembrance (commonly known in Canada as memorial avenues) were linear tree-lined avenues, usually in semi-rural or suburban settings. The trees were typically a single species, regularly spaced along each side of the avenue. The species would, ideally, grow tall and stately; American elms were chosen for many of these avenues. (3) By assigning a particular tree to a specific fallen soldier, usually by means of a small plaque, an additional depth of symbolism could be imparted to the avenue. In some cases, the next-of-kin was involved in purchasing the tree and/or plaque for the deceased soldier. The avenue thus became both a personal and community memorial.

Roads of Remembrance were based on two symbolladen images. The first was France's tree-lined country avenues: Winnipeg's memorial avenue of elms at the Manitoba Agricultural College was intended to be "a far-off reminder of the long straight tree-lined roads of France down which young men from [the college] had marched in their rendezvous with death." (4) A Saskatoon veteran described them as "long straight roads, with large elms on either side beautiful and useful, and loved by the Canadians overseas." (5) The idea for Victoria's avenue of trees was "to form a highway copied from one of the famous roads of France," and was originally proposed to be named "Mons." (6)

The second symbol was a living memorial: trees represented the victory of life over death. On the battlefields of Europe the image was arresting: the broken, fallen, and amputated trees seemed "to turn to the warming rays of the rising sun as if new life would grow because of its healing light." (7) In North America, memorial trees became living symbols of the sacrifices made in France and Belgium.

Treed memorial avenues were promoted in Canada, Britain, and the United States as useful, beautiful, and lasting memorials, and low in cost. The American Civic Association asked, "If your community cannot afford to erect a high-grade architectural or sculptural memorial, would you not approve of having something more simple yet excellent of its kind, such as an avenue of trees ...?" (8) Their appropriateness in Canada was extolled in the Canadian Municipal Journal in 1922: "Future generations of Canadians will be reminded of the part that Canada played in the world's...

Source Citation

Source Citation
Gordon Fulton. "Roads of remembrance." Manitoba History, no. 31, spring 1996, pp. 42-6. Accessed 6 Dec. 2021.
  

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