. who is the horseman of the park?

 

When you need to meet in the Beltline the easiest way is to tell someone to “Meet me at the Horse”. The horse statue in Central Memorial Park has become a well known landmark – But just who is the lone rider in the park?

Calgarians have taken to calling the monument many things - the “Horseman of the plains”, “the horse”, “the mountie” (the most incorrect of them all) – but the monument was originally named the “South African War Memorial” (known today as the 2nd Boer War).

The people of Calgary themselves, decided they wanted to build this monument. Dedicated to the volunteers who died for the honour of the Empire so that their sacrifices would never be forgotten; today, few know the significance of the statue.
Nowhere on the statue does it explain who it is on the horse, it simply says:

Plaque on the SAWM

The lack of title or name of the statue has meant that intrigued Calgarians have sought to put a name in the saddle… or name themselves as the rider in the park.

Is it LtCol Boyle?

For years the City of Calgary identified the statue as Lieutenant Colonel R.L. Boyle. Yet soldiers in this city might be very surprised to hear that, especially members of the Calgary Highlanders Infantry Regiment (the “Fighting” 10th Battalion).LtCol Boyle is generally regarded as the first combat Commanding Officer of the Calgary Highlanders and as such, holds a rather venerated position within the regiment. Boyle fell at the Battle of Kitcheners Wood which was the first Battle Honour of the Calgary Highlanders (who perpetuate the 10th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force). This was also the first time that a significant poison gas attack was ever used by the Germans against any British Imperial Forces. If this statue had been of Boyle, it would be odd that knowledge of this would not be passed on within the regiment. Odder still would be the depicting of an infantry officer on horseback; aside from the fact that he became well known during the Great War, not the South African War.

It is rather likely that the artist sculpted based on another source.

LtCol Boyle

References:

-Bensusan, S.L., (1912) “Twentieth Century Cities” Hodder & Stoughton Publishers: Calgary

-Calgary Herald, “Put statue in central park”, January 16, 1911.

- Calgary News Telegram, “Calgarians will honor memory of South African veterans”, June 18, 1914.

-Calgary Herald, “Unveiling of the South African Statue Tomorrow”, June 19,1914.

-Calgary News Telegram, “An impressive Memorial”, June 20, 1914.

-Calgary Herald, “South African Memorial Statue is Unveiled”, June 22, 1914.

-Calgary News Telegram “Memory of War’s Heroes is Honored” June 22, 1914

-Tousley, Nancy. “Equestrian monument city’s first” Calgary Herald, October 14, 1984

-Waters, Beth. “Widow of Model sees park statue”, Calgary Herald, September 5, 1967

-Tousley, Nancy. “Equestrian monument city’s first” Calgary Herald, October 14, 1984

-Waters, Beth. “Widow of Model sees park statue”, Calgary Herald, September 5, 1967

The Artist and his models

The South Africa War Memorial was commissioned in 1911 and unveiled in 1914. The artist chosen for creating the monument was Louis-Philippe Herbert, a world famous French Canadian sculptor. Of the 14 commemorative monuments in Montreal and Quebec City, 8 were done by Herbert. This was to be the last major work created by Herbert, and the only equestrian statue he ever made.

Aside from the pedestal, the contract Herbert signed stipulated that he will cast a statue of a “soldier from Alberta”, medallions of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII, and a shield with the arms of Alberta.

As his first and only equestrian statue, Hebert wanted to get it right. In order to achieve an accurate portrayal of a “soldier from Alberta” on horseback, Herbert did two things.

First, he was sent a horse from Calgary. Alberta horses were regarded as especially strong horses, and so it was not unusual that he would not simply just use any horse. A book published in 1912 to attract people to Calgary lauded that

“Alberta horses are noted for endurance, lung power, and freedom of action. This is chiefly due to the dry atmosphere, short winters, abundance of good pasture and good water” (p.61 Bensusan, 1912).

Apparently the good climate that bred uniquely strong horses wasn’t as beneficial for men, because the second thing Hebert did was request for a “typical Canadian army man type” to be sent to him from the Canadian Army - and he was given a new recruit fresh off the boat from the UK instead of an Albertan soldier. Hebert was sent Captain Thomas Henry Johnson who posed for the statue. Years later, his wife visited Calgary and told the story of how her husband had been the model.

Mrs. Johnson’s claims in 1967 set off a new debate as to who the soldier was.   Talking to Herald reporter at the time, Mrs. Johnson said, "It is an excellent likeness of him." The sculpture is also said, however, to be an excellent likeness of Eneas McCormick, the early Calgary saddler who, with W.J. Riley, founded Riley & McCormick in 1902. McCormick's children remember being told by their father that it was he who sat for Hebert. And, says Calgary lawyer Edward McCormick, "The face looks just like my father's."

The truth is Eneas McCormick did model for the monument. When Hebert came to Calgary to make the final arrangements for the monument, he decided to take the opportunity to see “the western horse in its own setting” and make a few alterations to the horse and rider. Hebert had McCormick dress as a South African War soldier to model for the piece.

Eneas McCormac

So who is it supposed to be then?

Hebert did use McCormick and Johnson as models. But he also used pictures of many other “typical” Alberta men. He might have used pictures of Boyle or many other Alberta soldiers.

The statue is of all of these men, but it is not any particular one. It was never meant to be any one man, living or dead. The reason the rider was never identified was because the statue is of no one… and everyone. The statue is of an unknown soldier, embodying all of the traits of an Albertan soldier sacrificing himself for the betterment of his country and principles of the British peoples of the world. To attach a name, or a specific person, whether they were historical figures or models, to the South African War Memorial is not only incorrect, but it is disrespectful to those that the monument was built to remember… The ones “who sleep beneath the far-off veldt”.