Thunder Bay

New war memorial to recognize Northwestern Ontario's First World War volunteers

A new memorial expected to be built on Thunder Bay's north side this summer will serve as overdue recognition for Northwestern Ontario's volunteers in the First World War, those behind the project say.

Memorial to be constructed this summer at Current River Park

Members of the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, gathered in Waverley Park in 1915. (LSSR Senate/Supplied)

A new memorial expected to be built on Thunder Bay's north side this summer will serve as overdue recognition for Northwestern Ontario's volunteers in the First World War, those behind the project say.

The memorial, which will be built in Current River Park, just off Cumberland St. N., will specifically focus on the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, said Tim Groulx of the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment (LSSR) senate, the civilian organization working on the project.

But the memorial itself will be about much more than the 52nd Battalion alone, he said.

"This battalion is our role model for remembering all of the people who went to World War One [from Northwestern Ontario]," Groulx said. "Right now, other than the Port Arthur Cenotaph and the Fort William Cenotaph, there is no memorial specifically for the veterans of the First World War. We are going to build it this summer."

A mockup of the planned memorial to the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion in Thunder Bay, which is expected to be constructed this summer. (LSSR Senate/Youtube)

The 52nd Battalion formed in 1914, with 1,000 men from all across Northwestern Ontario — including Port Arthur, Fort William, and regional towns like Nipigon, Fort Frances, and Dryden —enlisting. Those initial volunteers fought in the trenches in Europe.

"They suffered so badly ... that 1,000-man battalion was rebuilt so often with reinforcements, that by the time the war was over, about 4,100 officers and men passed through this one little Northwestern Ontario battalion," Groulx said. "And 800 of them are dead and buried in France and Belgium."

The monument itself will include information about the battalion, as well as the official list of all 800 members who died in the war. It will be constructed in the parking circle of the Military Field section of Current River Park.

It will also include benches, a poppy bed, and both the current Canadian maple leaf flag, and the Canadian Red Ensign flag, which was in use until 1965.

"We want to remember the people that served, and who lost their lives," said Cliff Friesen, Honourary Colonel, LSSR. "It's also very important from the perspective that we need to have our young people understand what has taken place in the past, and how they've made it possible for ourselves, and of course the young people today, to enjoy the freedom that they have."

The budget for the monument is $100,000, with about $75,000 having been raised so far. Construction is expected to start this summer, and the memorial will be dedicated in September.

Groulx said donations to the project can be made online at Canada Helps, or dropped off at Royal Canadian Legion Polish Veterans Branch 149 on Simpson Street.