News

Unknown Soldier earns more prominent recognition

By Ray Spiteri, Niagara Falls Review

Niagara Falls’ Unknown Soldier was re-intered in a new and more prominent location during an official military funeral at Fairview Cemetery on Saturday.

“You’re not going to miss it now,” said Bryn Knowles, who served in the Canadian Navy during the 1960s.

“It’s long overdue. It’s important because the sacrifice that’s made should be recognized and appreciated, and this is a great way of doing that.”

Louis Frenette, a service officer who looks after veterans and represents 17 Royal Canadian Legion branches from Fort Erie to Grimsby, said the memorial — and Saturday’s ceremony — was “quite a thing to see.”

“People should remember, especially the people in the First World War because they suffered really hard,” he said.

“I think what was done here at this cemetery is going to draw more people in to sit down and reflect on what they’ve got here.”

David Vanderhyde was visiting friends in Niagara this weekend, and decided to attend Saturday’s service.

He is a Vietnam War veteran from Michigan, and represented a local Veterans of Foreign Wars branch from the state.

“I think it’s beautiful — the whole area here is beautiful,” said Vanderhyde.

“It’s just an honour to remember everybody and what they’ve done in the past, and what they’re still doing in the present.”

Hubert Lalonde, a Korean War veteran who lives in Chippawa, said he has long attended the annual parade of the Unknown Soldier, when his grave was simply identified with a small, flat marker.

“Nobody could even see it, but this is marvellous, just marvellous,” he said.

Historically, the parade of the Unknown Soldier would begin at the Morrison Street entrance to the cemetery, and veterans, legionaires and cadets would march past the Field of Honour in Section Four, and gather in the Field of Honour in Section M.

But this year, while the parade still began at the Morrison Street entrance, it was redirected to the new tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Once the parade ended at the new site, the Unknown Soldier was brought into the cemetery, from Morse and Son Funeral Home, carried by a horse and carriage, and re-intered in the new tomb.

Local representatives from the Canadian military served as pallbearers.

“It’s quite overwhelming,” said Mark Richardson, manager of cemetery services for the City of Niagara Falls, who spearheaded the large-scale restoration of the cemetery’s Fields of Honour, including a more prominent location for the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“Through this experience, I’ve had an opportunity to speak to members of the legion, local veterans, and veterans from the Second World War, veterans from the Korean War, and active soldiers as well, and everyone is really quite overwhelmed by this project, and so happy to see this. We’re all feeling it’s quite fitting, and that we finally pay proper respect for our Unknown Soldier, and unknown soldiers around the world.”

The Unknown Soldier, who served with the 19th Lincoln Regiment during the First World War, was originally laid to rest in Section M of the Field of Honour.

After calls were received for a more prominent recognition, a larger memorial was designed in a new location with a raised crypt monument to serve as the new tomb, as well as a second memorial monument flanked by the Canadian and Union Jack flags.

The design of the new memorial also incorporated the planting of two Vimy oak trees, which were donated by Royal Canadian Legion Branch 479, adjacent to the tomb.

The new memorial and monument was installed on one of the cemetery’s islands, which serves as a predominant, highly visible and central location.

In addition to the tomb and related memorial plaza, a new Field of Honour has been developed, including the restoration of nearly 200 veteran graves.

Old markers have been replaced by upright markers.

The initiatives were made possible by the work of the city’s cemetery services department, in partnership with Royal Canadian Legion branches 479, 51 and 396; the British Canadian Veterans Association; the Lincoln and Welland Regiment Foundation; Kirkpatrick Stoneworks; Campbell Monument; Morse and Son Funeral Home; the Order of St. George; Ground Aerial Maintenance Service; Veterans Affairs Canada; Commonweath War Graves Commission, Last Post Fund; Sentineal Carriages; and Niagara Military Heritage Centre.

Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates, who was one of many local dignitaries who attended Saturday’s service, said the new memorial left him “almost speechless.”

Last year, Gates approached city council to ask the municipality to do more to recognize the Unknown Soldier’s final resting place.

After that, several organizations got on board to help with the project, which continued to grow in partners and scope.

“I actually get chills,” said Gates when asked what he thinks about the new memorial.

“The job that was done by Mark ... and all the groups that came together to support it ... I am almost speechless today to see what I’m looking at. This is wonderful, and we should take this right across the country. This should be how we honour our unknown soldiers ... because without our unknown soldiers, and without our veterans, we wouldn’t live in the greatest country in the world today, and enjoy the freedom that we have today.”

rspiteri@postmedia.com