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Did You Know...

Brantford has a remarkable history as rich and colourful as any community in Canada.  Two weeks ago a partnership of area museums joined together to help  the people of Brantford, Brant County and Six Nations learn a little more about the communities that they call home.

I am a history buff, and I have never had a problem finding a unique historical fact or new understanding from our history.  Years ago I developed an interest in Joseph Brant and began a personal effort to gather all the information I could about Brant.  I have collected a shelf full of books, trading cards, silver tokens and coins, toy figures, prints of the many portraits painted of Brant, Cracker Jack pins and documents in his own hand. 

Although Brant was a prominent figure in the settling of this territory, and the formation of our communities, we know very little about him and his history; and perhaps, a little more understanding of that time, would help us to understand the times in which we live today.

Another piece of our history that really gets me excited (yes, I am a history geek so “excited” is the right word) is the history that connects the Bell Memorial on West Street with the Vimy Ridge Memorial north of Arras, France and our Brant War Memorial on Dalhousie Street.

In 1906 the Bell Telephone Memorial Association initiated a design competition for a memorial to commemorate the invention of the telephone and the first long distance telephone between Brantford and Paris on August 10, 1876.

The committee chose a design by Toronto based artist Walter Seymour Allward, and he was awarded the contract in 1908 to be completed in 1912.  The memorial was actually completed 5 years later and the memorial was dedicated by Alexander Graham Bell on October 24, 1917.  Brantford was in the process of establishing itself as the Telephone City, and wanted to commemorate this by having Bell himself establish our place in the invention of the telephone.

"I wish to say, on behalf of the Bell Telephone Memorial Association, that I have great pleasure in presenting to His Excellency a silver telephone, and I hope that in using it he will remember that the telephone originated in Brantford and that the first transmission to a distance was made between Brantford and Paris." A. G. Bell to the Duke of Devonshire, then Governor-General of Canada, at the unveiling of the Brantford Telephone Memorial, Wednesday, October 24, 1917

"Brantford is justified in calling herself "The Telephone City," because the Telephone originated there."  A.G. Bell to Mr. T. H. Preston of Brantford, March 1916

In October 1921 an architectural design commission awarded the Vimy Ridge Memorial to Walter S Allward, who began the process in 1925 and Vimy Ridge was dedicated July 26, 1936. 

It has been said that the success of the Bell Memorial and the contacts with business leaders, government officials and members of British royalty aided him in being awarded the  Vimy contract, whether this is true or not would require more digging on my part – but I like it well enough that I am prepared to accept this as accurate.

During the design and build of Vimy Ridge Memorial, which can be described as a tumultuous period in Allward’s life, he also was involved in creating cenotaphs to the dead of World War I.  One such design was for the Brant War Memorial at the corner of Dalhousie and Brant Ave (the original design can be viewed at www.brantwarmemorials.com or http://www.brantford.library.on.ca/genealogy/pdfs/brantwarmemorial.pdf) . 

The Brant War Memorial was dedicated on Thursday May 25, 1933 2:45 PM.  The design is referred to as Modern Art Deco.  The Memorial had a backdrop added for the war dead of World War II and the Korean War, and rededicated on July 2, 1954.  The latest additions were the fantastic bronze sculptures, dedicated on September 12, 1992.

The Brantford cenotaph is very different than the designs of cenotaphs in other communities and appears derivative of Allward’s work and design in Vimy.  The single monolithic structure on a raised platform in granite is not a copy of Vimy, but the similarities are obvious.  Look too to the figure of Mother Canada at Vimy Ridge and compare it to the allegorical representations at the Bell Memorial, the look and design are remarkably similar. 

Whether my assessment is correct or not, make the effort to visit the Bell Memorial on West Street and the Brant War Memorial on Dalhousie.  Take your camera, take your family (particularly your children), go up on the stairs of both monuments, run your fingers along the inscriptions, pray for those who gave the supreme sacrifice for our freedom, marvel at the beauty of two of the finest pieces of statuary in all of Canada, and feel a connection to world history right here in your community.

Thank you to the Bell Homestead, Glenhyrst Art Gallery, Chiefswood Museum, Woodland Cultural Centre and the Brant Historical Society for putting together the interestingfacts.ca campaign to breathe new life into our rich history.  Visit these wonderful organizations in your community.

If you wish to see photos of a recent photographic trip I took to the Bell Memorial visit my website at mayor.brantford.ca or visit my facebook page http://www.facebook.com/ChrisFriel2010.  Also, make sure to visit the websites of each of the partners in the “Did You Know…” campaign http://www.interestingfacts.ca/ and http://www.facebook.com/factsbrant

"I was and I am a Brantford man. To Brantford I owe life, health and strength." Alexander Graham Bell, 1906