World War One claimed tens of thousands of Canadian lives, lost in the battles far away in overseas war theatres. To recognize the great sacrifices made, the government of Canada set a plan in motion to construct the stately Peace Tower among the buildings on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario. The site was dedicated on July 1, 1917 by Prime Minister Robert Borden; the future building was to have the names engraved on the Memorial Chamber walls, said Veterans Affairs Canada. But, the plan somehow had to be altered. There were too many names for the space, with over 66,000 killed by the end of WWI.
The First Book of Remembrance
The First World War Book of Remembrance was the answer to the problem. On August 3, 1927, the altar for the first book was unveiled by the Prince of Wales, the elegant stand given by the British government. The Book of Remembrance took years to complete; the first artist, James Purves, required “many rare materials to create the Book,” noted VAC, and “all of the tools had to come from the British Empire.” Mr. Purves died in 1940 with much work still ahead. His assistant Alan Beddoe took over the post. Using his artistic skills, he adorned the pages with elegant classic illustrations in bold, striking colours. With 125 names per leaf, he completed the beautiful Book in 1942. Mr. Beddoe continued his career on the Books of Remembrance until his death in 1975.
The Second Book of Remembrance
After WW2, another Book of Remembrance was initiated. Changing the format to 75 names per page and modifying the font style and other details, the creation of the Second World War Book of Remembrance began in 1949. The majestic volume was completed in time for Remembrance Day in 1957. Artist Beddoe had grown from one assistant to “a chief assistant, five assistant artists, two writers, an accounting officer and a proof-reader,” according to VAC. The Book is filled with over 44,000 names.
Books in Memorial Chamber
Four more Books of honour were later placed in the Memorial Chamber:
- The Newfoundland Book of Remembrance memorializes the soldiers of Newfoundland before it became a Canadian province in 1949. Representing WWI and WWII, the Book’s leaves name over 2,300 brave men and women. It was placed in the Memorial Chamber on April 1, 1973.
- More than 500 names are listed on the pages of the Korean War Book of Remembrance, a commemoration of those Canadians who died during the battle from 1950 to 1953. Dedicated on November 11, 1962, the pages are inscribed with symbols of the United Nations and the 17 countries that fought in the Korean War.
- The South African War/Nile Expedition Book of Remembrance was placed for viewing in the Memorial Chamber in 1962. Two hundred and sixty seven soldiers are listed on the pages of the Book, dedicated on the 60th Anniversary of the end of the South African War. The Nile Expedition took place in 1884, the South African War occurred from 1899 to 1902.
- Another Book representing the Merchant Navy entered the Memorial Chamber in 1993. The Merchant Navy Book of Remembrance embraces the names of more than 570 soldiers from WWI and 1,600 men and women from WWII. Encompassing a nautical theme, the pages include maps and sea-faring art.
The Seventh Book of Remembrance
A final commemorative book was added on November 11, 2005. The Seventh Book of Remembrance holds the names of the men and women on duty who sacrificed their lives “In the Service of Canada” after October 1, 1947 (excluding those in the Korean Book of Remembrance). The Seventh Book “includes those who died in times of conflict, or during peacetime training exercises, peacekeeping deployments abroad or other military duty.” At this time, the Book honours the names of over 1,600 lost lives, and has enough space to accommodate those who will sacrifice their lives in future events.
The Seven Books of Remembrance may be read through the glass cases at Ottawa’s Peace Tower. The names of the war dead may also be searched and viewed on the Veterans Affairs Canada website. Their lives were lost in the defence of Canada and other countries. On this Remembrance Day, and every day, we will not forget.
Visit Library and Archives Canada for more information.
This article first appeared on Suite101 in 2009. Copyright Susanna McLeod