. south african war memorial
South African War Memorial
Artist: Louis Philippe Hebert (1850 - 1917)
Unveiled in 1914, the South African War Memorial remains one of the best known landmarks in the beltline. Paid for entirely by donations from the citizens of Calgary, it was placed to remember the volunteers from Alberta who gave their lives defending the British Empire. The statue was the last monument ever created by one of the world’s best known sculptors, Louis-Philippe Hébert. The unveiling was accompanied by a speach by the future Prime Minister, R.B. Bennett.
In 1909, a lone man was found on the outskirts of city, frozen to death. No one could identify the man, and the only documentation found on him were papers identifying him as a veteran of the South African War, having been discharged from the Lord Strathcona’s Horse Regiment.
Rather than letting this man disappear to a paupers grave, the veterans of Calgary rallied to provide the man with a proper burial. They raised funds themselves and gave the unidentified man a soldiers’ funeral.
Later, word of the mans’ death reached his family in England. Grateful to the veterans they insisted they reimburse the veterans the costs of the funeral. When the money arrived, the veterans decided that it was more important that the memories of their breathren be remembered, and so the reimbursed funeral expenses became the beginning of a fundraising campaign to build a memorial to the fallen of the South African War.
The creation of the Monument
A committee was formed with representatives from the Western Veterans Association, the Canadian Club, Daughters of the Empire, and the City of Calgary. They approached the world famous French-Canadian sculptor, Louis-Philippe Hébert in 1911. Hébert himself decided that the Central Memorial Park site was the best location for the statue.
Hébert went to great lengths to ensure the accuracy of his first and only equestrian monument. He had a genuine Calgary Quarter Horse sent by train to his Montreal studio and came to Calgary periodically to study the Calgary Horses in their natural environment. His masterpiece was completed in 1914. It would be the last major piece of artwork he completed in his life.
An Impressive Unveiling
The statue was unveiled to the city on June 20, 1914 after weeks of build up in the community. The day selected was flag day, and throughout the city every social service organization encouraged Calgarians to decorate the city in Union Jack bunting and flags. Fire Chief “Cappy” Smart personally took on the task of ensuring the Beltline area near the park was properly decorated.
Only veterans and their families were allowed in the park, while non-military citizens packed the streets to catch a glimpse of the pageantry at the unveiling. Boy scouts, fire fighters, and cadets were mobilized to guard the flower beds at the park.
The monument was unveiled by the District Officer Commander Colonel Cruickshank. R.B. Bennett, K.C., M.P., gave the address to the crowd. Veterans attended in uniform wearing medals and clasps. After the Prayer of Invocation and playing of “O Canada”, their was a march past of over 2000 red coated troops in precedence: 15th Light Horse, 19th Alberta Dragoons, 23rd Alberta Rangers, 25th Battery Canadian Field Artillery, 4th Field Troop Engineers, No. 14 Company Army Service Corps., No 17 C Field Ambulance, Provisional Brigade, Corps of Guides (the forerunner of Military Intelligence), Army Service Corps, 103rd Calgary Rifles.
Wait... why is there a “South African” Monument in Calgary?
The South African War Memorial was commissioned as a memorial for those Canadians who fought and died in the South African War. Today the war is referred to commonly as the Second Boer War.
The South African war was fought between South Africa and the allied Boer Republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State. It lasted from 1899 to 1902. The Boers were a mixture of the descendants of Dutch, German, and British colonialists, who took over South Africa between 1652 – 1795 on behalf of the Dutch East India Company. During the Napoleonic Wars, British troops landed in South Africa and defeated the Dutch troops there, establishing their own colony. Over time, the Boers moved north establishing a number of independent Boer Republics. Gold was discovered in Southern Africa in 1886, however there was not enough man power in the Boer Republics to develop the mining industry, leading to the Boers to encourage immigration into their territories. The bulk of these immigrants, called uitlanders (foreigners) by the Boers, were British. Boers refused full citizenship rights to anyone not of “pure Boer blood”. This lead to tensions and a border standoff in 1899 as the British demanded that their expatriates be granted full rights. The Boers refused and war ensued after negotiations failed.
Canada's involvement in the Boer War was controversial as French Canadians vehemently opposed involvement in any British Wars, while English Canadians saw it as their colonial duty. Wilfred Laurier’s government relied on a coalition of French and English at the time, which allowed him to neither support of oppose the war. As a result all Canadians who participated in the Boer War did so as volunteers, and their regiments were funded by wealthy British patrons who supplied uniforms, training, weapons, and transport. Opposition to the War was so great in Quebec, there was a three day long riot in Montreal to Protest Canada's involvement in what was seen as a British colonial venture.
The Sentiments of Albertans were summed up well by R.B. Bennett in his unveiling speech:
As a result of Canadian participation in the Boer War, the first significant change in the organization of the militia took place in 1904 with the passage of another Militia Act. Sir Frederick Borden, the Minister of the Militia had by this time established a Medical Corps, Army Service Corps, Corps of Engineers, and an Ordinance Corps. His long-term goal was to create a Canadian citizen army, with greater autonomy from British matters. Canada would co-operate with the Mother country in times of war, but it's forces would not be integrated within the imperial military. These goals and reforms did not give Canada a well trained military by the time of the First World War, but a solid framework for mobilization was in place