The Canadian Memorial Chapel in Vancouver looks dull and grey from the outside, but inside it is illuminated with a dozen magnificent stained glass windows that honour Canada’s history and honour the role of Canadians in the First World War. (Michael Gates/Yukon News)

Yukon war memorial hidden in Vancouver

A dramatic and beautiful memorial to the fallen of World War I is not well known to Yukoners today

In my columns and my recent book From the Klondike to Berlin I have written much about the ways in which Yukoners have been remembered for their contributions to the war effort, especially those who died while in service.

There are cenotaphs with the names of the fallen inscribed in bronze in Dawson and Whitehorse. There are framed parchment lists of the volunteers mounted on the walls of different churches, and a large triptych in the lobby of the Dawson Museum. You can even go online and find the names of the fallen at websites for the Canadian Virtual War Memorial, and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. There is, however, a little-known war memorial located in Vancouver with one of the most obscure yet one of the most beautiful dedications to Yukoners from the Great War.

It is a large stained glass window in the Canadian Memorial, a chapel owned by the United Church of Canada, located at 1806 W. 15th Avenue, in Vancouver. You can find the website at canadianmemorial.org

The memorial was the brainchild of Methodist preacher, Rev. (Lt-Col.) George Fallis, who had a vision of a memorial dedicated to Canadians who fought and died during World War I. With the support of his congregation in Vancouver he set about to have such a memorial constructed. The architectural firm of Twizel and Twizel designed the memorial, and the sod-turning ceremony took place in July 1927. Sir George Eulas Foster, President of the League of Nations Society of Canada, handled the shovel at this event.

At another ceremony on Sept. 17, The Hon. Walter C. Nichol, the Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia, laid the cornerstone. Construction proceeded, and little more than a year later, on Nov. 9, the building was dedicated at another ceremony, and the first regular service was held there two days later, exactly 10 years to the day since the Armistice was declared.

The chapel was dedicated to Canada’s fallen soldiers, while “articulating a Christian cry for peace and an end to violence.” Key among the features intended to make that statement are the stained glass windows that illuminate its interior. There are 10 main windows, five on each side of the building. Nine are dedicated to the provinces (Newfoundland was not part of Canada at that time), and one is dedicated to the Yukon.

Each window has a religious motif above the provincial (or territorial) coat of arms, flanked by window panes on each side that depicted some events significant to the history of that jurisdiction. Rev. Fallis traveled all over Canada, promoting the windows and raising funds to have them made. His campaign was highly successful.

He did not travel to the Yukon, but in January of 1929, he wrote a letter to Martha Black regarding the proposal and asking her support in raising the $2,500 required to install a window for the Yukon. A small plaque, he noted, would be placed below it listing the names of “those citizens who installed the window.”

Martha Black and her husband George, Yukon’s member of Parliament, set about this ambitious task. Donations flooded in from Yukoners in California; $500 was pledged by those in Seattle, and several generous benefactors in Vancouver contributed $100 each to the cause.

The IODE in the Yukon set itself the task of raising funds in the territory, while George Black contacted friends in various communities that he thought would commit themselves to the task of collecting contributions.

The money came in from all quarters. George I. MacLean, who was chief executive of the territory, contributed $25; Harry Gleaves, who ran the Arcade Café, added $5, as did Frank Berton, Rev. Hawksley, Turner Townsend, T.A. Firth and Dr. W.E. Thompson. Other contributors included those whose names are still familiar to Yukoners today: McCarter, Jeckell, Osborn, Lelievre, Burkhard, Nordling and Troberg.

The local contributions added hundreds of dollars to the final tally, which must have reached the target, as the window was dedicated at a ceremony held in the new chapel in Vancouver on the evening of Sunday, July 23 1929.

In a service conducted by Rev. Fallis, Sheriff Charles MacDonald performed the act of dedication, after which former Yukoner Rev. George Pringle delivered a stirring sermon. Pringle, the author of the book, Tillicums of the Trail, had served Yukon parishioners for a decade and later served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the war. He had lost his own son, John, near Corcelette, France in 1916.

Then a woman stood up to sing. She was Mrs. George Smith, a silver-haired grandmother, whose voice sang out as clear and vibrant as it had on the stages of Dawson’s gold rush theatres when she was Miss Beatrice Lorne, known as the “Australian (then later Klondike) Nightingale.”

The window was magnificent then, as it still is today. It, like the others, looks dull and uninviting from the outside. When viewed from inside the chapel, however, with sunlight streaming through the stained glass, it glows invitingly. The upper panels depict a biblical scene in which David and Jonathan are making a covenant after David had killed Goliath with his slingshot.

The Yukon coat of arms, located in the centre below David and Jonathan, is a design resembling the current one, which was approved by Queen Elizabeth in 1956. To one side of the coat of arms is a pane depicting parka-clad men ascending the Chilkoot Pass in 1898. On the other side, a pane depicts another parka-clad man with a dog team and sled, carrying the Royal mail.

Along the bottom of the window are narrow horizontal panes with the inscription: “To the Glory of God and in Memory of the Men of the Yukon Territory Who Gave Their Lives in the World War.”

Mounted on the sill below the window is a small brass plaque in acknowledgement of the many Yukoners from far and wide who donated to make this window possible. It states simply, without naming any individual: “This window was erected by Yukoners in appreciation and understanding.”

As noted in a contemporary pamphlet about the memorial, “the windows are not without the colonial, racial, gender and cultural assumptions of that time.” Yet it is still a dramatic and beautiful memorial to the fallen of World War I that is not well known to Yukoners today.

Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His new book, From the Klondike to Berlin, is now available in stores everywhere. You can contact him at msgates@northwestel.net

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