Thunder Bay·Audio

'It's about time they're recognized': memorial honours region's First World War volunteers

A new memorial will help ensure Northwestern Ontario's First World War volunteers are never forgotten.

52nd (New Ontario) Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force Battalion memorial dedicated on Saturday

The 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force memorial was dedicated on Saturday. (Michael Dick/CBC)
A new monument to Northwestern Ontario's First World War volunteers was dedicated on Thunder Bay's north side on the weekend 4:54

A new memorial will help ensure Northwestern Ontario's First World War volunteers are never forgotten.

The 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force memorial was dedicated on Saturday at Current River Park in Thunder Bay, Ont.

And while the memorial bears the name of the 52nd, it was built to honour each of the more than 6,000 people from the region who volunteered for service in the First World War.

"I'm very pleased," said Lieutenant Colonel David Ratz, Commanding Officer of the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment (LSSR). "This has been a long buildup to fill this void in our military commemoration and remembrance aspects of Thunder Bay."

"It's about time that they're recognized."

Saturday's dedication ceremony began with a parade, with LSSR members and cadets marching up Cumberland Street, led by bagpipes, to the entrance of Current River Park's Military Field parking loop.

A monument to the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force was dedicated on Saturday at Thunder Bay's Current River Park. It's dedicated to all of Northwestern Ontario's First World War volunteers. (CBC News)

The ceremony included a playing of the Last Post by a lone bugler, and the laying of wreaths at the base of the new monument.

The construction of the monument was spearheaded by the LSSR Senate, which has been working on the project for about the last two years.

The monument is specifically dedicated to the 52nd Battalion, which was the first full unit raised in Northwestern Ontario, mobilizing at the end of March 1915, and had about 4,100 members pass through its ranks throughout the war.

Of those, 743 died overseas. All of their names are listed on the memorial.

One of those in attendance Saturday was Lieutenant General Omer Lavoie, Deputy Commander of NATO's Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy.

However, Lavoie has roots here in the northwest. He was born in Marathon, and served in the LSSR.

"It's an extraordinary privilege," Lavoie said of attending Saturday's ceremony. "I never thought, in my wildest dreams as I start to get close to the end of my career, to sort of do full cycle. To get this invitation to come to this dedication ... and come back to where I started 36, 37 years ago as a private solider in the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment."

Lavoie said the monument itself was an emotional sight.

"As a commanding officer who commanded troops in combat, and sadly lost 19 soldiers killed in action in my time in Afghanistan, I can only empathize with the families who shared and experienced that loss, and that absolute sacrifice," he said. "You just can't put it into words."

Canadian Forces Lieutenant General Omer Lavoie, centre, conducts an inspection during the dedication ceremony for the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force Memorial at Current River Park in Thunder Bay on Saturday. (CBC News)

"It's highly emotional."

Ratz said he hopes people visit the monument, and keep those sacrifices in mind as they do so.

"I hope that they come here and they can relax, and contemplate, and reflect on the sacrifices of those who went before us," he said. "That's the main thing that I hope they would do, that they actually use this as a way of thinking and remembering about our loves ones from this region who paid the sacrifice in service of Canada."