It started with a question — “Why are there three cenotaphs in Smiths Falls?”
There’s a large memorial plaque at the Memorial Centre where the LAV III is now located, another small cenotaph behind the library at the cross streets of Beckwith and Elmsley, and the main cenotaph at Centennial Park — Beckwith Street south and Canal Street.
In Glenn Lockwood’s most stalwart of books — Smiths Falls: A social history of the men and women in a Rideau Canal community, 1794-1994 — there is some background.
The small one behind the library was erected in 1922 by the town women of Smiths Falls. All around them, in other nearby rural townships, they watched granite memorials going up but nothing was happening fast in Smiths Falls for their war dead.
So they set to work. “The town women were exasperated to see no action taken to erect a cenotaph in Smiths Falls.” In November 1921, the International Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE) pushed for a memorial but although a memorial committee was formed “it dithered over the detail of whether the memorial should be paid for from public funds or ‘put up by popular subscription’.” The sole woman on the committee crossed her arms, stamped her foot and declared “it was time something should be done.”
So the ladies auxiliary of the Great War Veterans Association (GWVA) “put up their own modest war memorial in late 1922 in front of the town hall.” It was moved a year later to the library grounds, and subsequently moved again closer to the library.
One woman’s name is included on the slender pink granite —Nursing Sister K. Menagh.
Goes to show, if you want something done, set women to do it.
Not to be out-done, in 1923 the town selected the “Thompson monument company…to design and build the new cenotaph that eventually was unveiled in 1925…at the centennial park between the Wood’s mills complex (now Parks Canada) and the combined locks.”
This is Smiths Falls’ main cenotaph with names from WWI, WWII, United Nations Peacekeepers, Korean War and the battles — Vimy Ridge, Hill 70, Passchendaele, Lens, Amiens, Arras, Courchelle, Bourlon Wood, Cambrai, Ypres, Festubert, Givenchy, Somme, Sanctuary Wood — etched into the stone.
This is where, every November 11, citizens of Smiths Falls join to remember those fallen in battle, and those still with us.
The third, at the Memorial Centre, is a memorial plaque, dedicated to “The men of Smiths Falls who sacrificed their lives in defence of freedom, truth and justice during WWII.”
Originally the plaque was placed in front of the old arena and eventually moved to where it is today at the corner of Cornelia and Elmsley Street N in front of the recently placed LAV III.
Ron Stronski took the town to task decades ago one cold winter day when he arrived at the old arena and found at least ten cars parked “on hallowed ground” around, and snugged up to, the plaque. He went to council and insisted that something be done to prevent this from happening again. A chain-link fence was eventually erected.
This is Bill Lye’s third year as the Parade Master of the November 11 parade. It’s his job to see to the logistics and administration of the day.
The key thing each year is to try and have a large contingent of local veterans with some coming in from around the country, he says. Local police march, as do the OPP, a contingent of regular army soldiers, about 35 from the platoon of the 3rd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment from Petawawa, the local Air Cadet Squadron, and Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and Cubs from the Town, as well as the Smiths Falls Gordon Pipe and Drum Band.
A small contingent of vets places wreaths first at the Memorial Community Centre plaque, then at the small granite memorial behind the library and then, at 10:30, the Remembrance Day parade starts its solemn march to the main cenotaph where a ceremony is observed.
It’s a time, says Lye, for veterans to get together, be together and be recognized. For a town of its size, Smiths Falls has given more than its share. Veterans are truly and quietly recognized through storefront displays as well as the turnout every November 11 at the main cenotaph.
“It’s pretty exemplary,” Lye says.