Manitoba Historical Society
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Winnipeg’s Cenotaph

by Betty Jane Wylie
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Manitoba Pageant, January 1963, Volume 8, Number 2

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Like every other major centre in Canada, Winnipeg wanted a cenotaph to honour its dead after the first World War. But the contest for the best war memorial almost started another war in Winnipeg.

Actually, there were two contests and the citizens finally awarded the commission for the cenotaph to a runner-up in the second contest.

The winning design of the first contest was submitted by a Mr. Emmanuel Hahn, an eminent Toronto sculptor, whose designs for war memorials had already been realized in several cities of Eastern Canada. But several groups of interested citizens in Winnipeg, including the Winnipeg Board of Trade, the Provincial Chapter of the I.O.D.E., the Traveller’s Association and the returned soldiers’ associations, vehemently protested the choice on the grounds of Mr. Hahn’s birthplace. Emmanuel Hahn had come to Canada in 1892 at the age of eleven and he was a naturalized Canadian but he was German born.

On 25 February 1926 at a war memorial meeting it was decided that Mr. Hahn should be paid the five hundred dollars for the prize design and that the contest should be re-opened to persons British-born or born in countries which were allies of Britain during the war. Tempers ran high at the meeting; appeals to British fair play were drowned out by cries of murder, and the cenotaph was almost forgotten in the heated discussion over Canadian citizenship which followed.

The second contest was won by a Canadian-born woman sculptor, Elizabeth Wood of Toronto, originally from Orillia, Ontario. Unfortunately, she happened to be the wife of Emmanuel Hahn. In November 1927, citizens rejected the decision of the judges because “it didn’t appeal to them”. Mrs. Hahn got her five hundred dollars and Gilbert Parfitt was chosen to do the cenotaph. The designer as well as the design was acceptable at last. Mr. Parfitt was a resident of Winnipeg who had been born in England and who had come to Canada in 1912. He later became the provincial architect for Manitoba.

The cenotaph was unveiled on 7 November 1928 and few people remember today that it almost started a war in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg Cenotaph

Winnipeg’s Cenotaph
Source: Gordon Goldsborough

Editor’s footnote: The Emmanuel Hahn whose design was rejected by Winnipeg in 1926 has since won wide acclaim as a sculptor. It is safe to say that each of us has an example of his work at hand, for our Canadian ten cent and twenty-five cent pieces carry his Bluenose and Caribou designs.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Winnipeg’s Cenotaph (Memorial Boulevard)

Page revised: 29 May 2020

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