Halifax ceremony marks send-off of monument headed for Passchendaele
Nova Scotia artist Nancy Keating stands before a new monument called "Canada Gate," which will soon be shipping to Belgium, where it will pay tribute to Canadian soldiers who fought in the Battle of Passchendaele a century ago. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael MacDonald)
Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, October 2, 2017 1:18PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, October 2, 2017 4:17PM EDT
HALIFAX -- One hundred years ago this week, tens of thousands of young soldiers from across Canada were preparing for a battle in western Belgium that would prove to be the bloodiest in Canadian military history.
By the time the fight for the ridge near Passchendaele was over on Nov. 10, 1917, the carnage endured by the Canadian Corps. had reached a level that would leave a deep scar on this country's collective psyche. Among the 15,000 casualties were 4,000 dead -- most of them later buried in Flanders.
"Canadian soldiers fought like hell for this country and for each other," Ken Hynes, curator of The Army Museum in Halifax, said Monday during an unusual ceremony inside a business park warehouse. "The last 700 metres, from Crest farm to the final capture of Passchendaele, took them 10 long, terrifying days."
Hynes was among 30 people who gathered for a ceremonial send-off for a large, new monument that will soon be shipped to Belgium, where it will pay tribute to the soldiers who fought in the Battle of Passchendaele.
The one-tonne monument, made from steel, is called "Canada Gate."
Its twin arches, which stand about four metres high, will be installed near Passchendaele in the days leading up to centennial events marking the end of the horrendous battle.
Canada Gate is the second of two so-called "portals of remembrance."
The first monument, installed last year on the Halifax waterfront, is "The Last Steps Memorial Arch," which marks the departure from Pier 2 of 350,000 soldiers who boarded ships bound for the killing fields of Belgium and France. That monument includes the dark prints of soldiers' boots on a wooden gangway that points toward Halifax harbour.
Like the Last Steps memorial, Canada Gate features the same boot prints, this time on a row of wooden duckboards, which were used to line the bottom of First World War trenches.
"Over the past 100 years, the people of Belgium have not forgotten, and neither should we," said Hynes, one of the project leaders responsible for the two monuments.
The designer of both memorials, Nova Scotia artist Nancy Keating, said her creative process was influenced by the fact that both of her grandfathers fought in the First World War.
At one point during the ceremony, Keating read from a war diary written by her grandfather on her mother's side. The entries described his enlistment in 1915 and being sent to the front in Belgium, where he transferred to a heavy battery unit. Keating's grandfather -- she referred to him as "Poppy" -- also told of suffering from a poison gas attack and the battlefield death of his 28-year-old brother.
"While working on the Canada Gate, I had my own personal journey of discovery, as I believe all Canadians can if you look closer at your family's history and the history we have as a nation," she said.
The memorial, which includes blooming metal poppies at the base of each arch, is so large it is easy to walk through.
"This is not a monument, but a moment in time re-imagined," Keating said. "It's a portal from the past, where we can retrace the steps -- not only of those who did not or could not return to Canada, but also of those who did return, their lives forever changed."
More than half a million Allied and German troops were killed or wounded in the battle for Passchendaele. British and Commonwealth forces fought from July to November 1917, and the Canadian victory there barely moved the front line against the Germans.