Remembering Beverly’s War Dead: Alberta’s First Great War Memorial

Canada is in the midst of marking the centenary of the Great War of 1914-1918. The war which engulfed the Dominion of Canada was to have dramatic effects on the young, barely decade-old province of Alberta. By 1914 Alberta boasted a greatly expanded population of 470,000 of whom more than 49,000 served in Canada’s armed forces. Of that number over 6,000 died and another 20,000 suffered non-fatal casualties.

On the eastern boundary of Alberta’s capital City of Edmonton the coal mining community of Beverly was incorporated as a Village in 1913 and elevated to the status of Town in July of 1914. Just prior to Canada’s entry into the Great War, Beverly had a population of 1,200, attracting residents from across Canada and the globe. Beverly’s citizens answered the call to arms in large numbers. A “Souvenir Programme” for the “Grand Patriotic Concert and Dance” held in December of 1915 in conjunction with the opening of the Col. Farquhar School in Beverly listed eighty “men of Beverly who have left to serve their King and Country.” During the course of the war over twice that number were thought to have enlisted with the Canadian armed forces.

Beverly’s contingent of combatants was not immune to the casualty statistics which Canada suffered during the course of the war. Indeed, Beverly was the first community in Alberta to honour the sacrifices of its citizens by erecting a War memorial in October of 1920, less than 2 years after the Armistice which concluded the hostilities of that bloody conflict. The impetus behind the establishment of the memorial, known as the Beverly Cenotaph, was an association of local veterans that was established on 9 April, 1920. The two Town lots on which the memorial was to be erected were leased to the town for 99 years by postmaster Thomas R. Dando, a veteran of the Great War.

The monument was unveiled on the afternoon of Sunday, 17 October, 1920. Dignitaries included Lieutenant Governor George Brett, Edmonton Mayor Joseph Clarke, Beverly Mayor Fred Humberstone and Brigadier – General William Antrobus Griesbach. Roman Catholic priest and Great War chaplain Ivor J. E. Daniel led those assembled in prayer.

Newly unveiled Beverly Memorial, 17 October, 1920 (City of Edmonton Archives, EA-160-14)

Newly unveiled Beverly Memorial, 17 October, 1920 (City of Edmonton Archives, EA-160-14)

The memorial’s front elevation noted that over 170 Beverly residents had enlisted in Canada’s armed forces during the course of the war while the three other elevations listed the names of the 28 who never returned. The ferocity of the battles in which these soldiers participated is reflected in the fact that more than half of these victims have no known graves, their names being etched on the war memorials at Halifax, Menin Gate and Vimy Ridge.

The Halifax Memorial located in that city’s Point Pleasant Park commemorates over 3,000 Canadian men and women lost at sea with no known graves during two world wars. Among them is Percy Richards who appears on the Beverly Cenotaph as “Percy Richard.” Richards was born in Tottenham, England, in 1879 and lived and worked as an auditor in Beverly. He had previous service with England’s Loyal North Lancashire Regiment during the South African War and served in Canada’s Reserve Militia. He enlisted with the #1 Field Ambulance Depot at Calgary’s Sarcee Camp in July of 1916 and perished aboard, H.M.H.S. Llandovery Castle, the hospital ship torpedoed by the German submarine U-86 on 27 June, 1918 off the coast of Ireland with a loss of 234 lives.

A 1918 Canadian poster using the sinking of the Llandovery Castle as a focal point for selling war bonds. (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AVictory_bonds_(Llandover_Castle).jpg)

A 1918 Canadian poster using the sinking of the Llandovery Castle as a focal point for selling war bonds. (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AVictory_bonds_(Llandover_Castle).jpg)

Canada’s imposing war memorial at Vimy Ridge commemorates the names of 11,000 Canadian soldiers who died in France with no identified graves including “Mike Ellis” and twelve others of Beverly’s war dead. Company Sergeant Major Michael George Ellis was born in 1884 in Ireland. On his enlistment papers with Edmonton’s 49th Infantry Battalion signed in January 1915, Ellis listed his occupation as a miner and stated that he had no relatives. He had previous service with the Royal Garrison Artillery at Hong Kong and at Halifax with the Royal Canadian Artillery. Near the end of June, 1916 he was wounded in action in France and a month later, was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, one of the British Empire’s highest decoration, second only to the Victoria Cross. Ellis was cited for conspicuous gallantry and ability: “When all the Officers of his company had been killed or wounded, he took command and by his coolness and example under heavy fire was enabled to consolidate the position won.” Two months later, during the Battle of Courcelette on the Somme front, Ellis was recorded as killed in action on 16 September 1916 at the age of 38. His body was never recovered and his property and effects were willed to his fiancé in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.

In spite of some inconsistencies in spelling it is possible by perusing various nominal rolls, reference works and Government of Canada databases to identify and piece together the life stories of all those who are listed on the Beverly War Memorial.

Beverly War Memorial, September 1933 (City of Edmonton Archives, EA-160-537).

Beverly War Memorial, September 1933 (City of Edmonton Archives, EA-160-537).

After the conclusion of the Second World War the Town of Beverly doubled the size of Memorial Park by adding two adjoining lots and repositioned the memorial to a more central location within the park. On Sunday, 5 October 1958 the cenotaph was re-dedicated by Mayor John Sehn before a crowd of 1,000. The names of five Second World War fatalities from Beverly were added to the base of the cenotaph, bringing to thirty-three the number of names listed on the memorial. Included was 32-year-old Distinguished Flying Cross winner, RCAF Pilot Officer Cecil Earl Hightower who died on 26 July 1943 over the Netherlands and was buried in the Groesbeek War Cemetery.

Procession/parade to service at Beverly Memorial, 11 November, 1938 (City of Edmonton Archives, EA-160-336).

Procession/parade to service at Beverly Memorial, 11 November, 1938 (City of Edmonton Archives, EA-160-336).

The Beverly War Memorial continues to be an important reminder of the high price Canadians have paid over the years in resolving global conflicts. A Committee has been formed in order to plan the restoration of the Memorial and the park in which it is located. As Alberta’s oldest Great War Cenotaph, the Beverly Memorial on the corner of 40th Street and 118th Avenue is the venue for annual Remembrance Day observations where the citizens of Northeast Edmonton gather to remember the sacrifices of those lost serving in Canada’s armed forces.

IMG_2185

Present-day view of Beverly Memorial (photograph by Peter Melnycky).

Written By: Peter Melnycky, Historian

SOURCES

Bright, David. “1919: ‘A Year of Extraordinary Difficulty’” in Payne, Michael et al., eds., Alberta Formed Alberta Transformed, pp. 413-441. Edmonton / Calgary: The University of Alberta Press / The University of Calgary Press, 2006.

Herzog, Lawrence. Built on Coal: A History of Beverley, Edmonton’s Working Class Town, Edmonton: Beverley Community Development Society, 2000.

Riddle, David K. & Donald G. Mitchell. The Distinguished Conduct Medal: Awarded to Members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1920. Winnipeg: The Kirkby-Marlton Press, 1991.

Beverly Cenotaph at http://www.beverlyhistory.ca/memorial_cenotaph.html

http://yegishome.ca/news/2005/07/07/edmontons-first-cenotaph

The author would like to acknowledge Robert Clarke and Doug Styles of the Edmonton local of the Military Collectors’ Club of Canada for sharing their research on the Beverly War Memorial.

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