When the Armistice was declared at 11:00 am on November 11th, 1918 and the Great War was officially over, Canadians began their plans to memorialize those who served and more importantly, those who gave their lives in service to their country.
In Hamilton, the memorial to their soldiers took the form of a school. It was designed by local architect, J.D. Hutton and built to be a permanent memorial to the Great War and those men from Hamilton who fought and died for their city and country. On October 21st, 1918, ground was broken at the corner of Main and Ottawa streets for this new building.
On October 17th, 1919, the school was officially opened by Edward Prince of Wales, during his visit to the city. He was presented with a gold key to the school and declared it officially opened.
In the years that followed, Memorial became a powerful symbol to remind Hamiltonians of the sacrifices that had been made by her citizens. On November 18th, 1925, Memorial Hall was officially dedicated to Hamilton’s war dead. The dedication ceremony was performed by Ven. Archdeacon R.J. Renison, himself an overseas chaplain during the Great War. Veterans and others rose to sing the Memorial hymn. The following words were then spoken by the guest of honour, General Sir Arthur Currie:
“I am glad that this Memorial takes the form of a school. Here you have lighted the torch that will burn up ignorance, for ignorance breeds jealousy, selfishness, disease and folly, and can only be abolished by enlightened minds being applied to it. The end of education is to create people who can see clearly, imagine vividly, think steadily, and will nobly. Are we to allow the great tide of feeling that swept over Canada those days to vanish? We need it to overcome the difficulties in government in this country. The war was fought for too great a cost; the ideals it begot were too noble, the sorrow was too wide for it to vanish quickly from our lives.”
There are sixteen bronze tablets on the pillars surrounding Memorial Hall. On each, there are 132 names of Hamilton men who made the supreme sacrifice. The crowded years from 1914 to 1918 are recalled in the names of Droucourt-Queant and Festubert, Valeciennes and St. Eloi, Ypres, Somme and Passchendaele, Arras, Mons, Hill 70 and St. Quentin, Vimy Ridge, Mont Sorrel, Givenchy and Canal du Nord. These places are inscribed around three sides of the Hall. Over the stage in Memorial Hall are the inscribed words,
“That our youth may ever remember the valiant soldiers of Hamilton who died in the Great War, this school is a Memorial.”
Over our four entrances of the school are inscribed the names of four famous soldiers: Major-General Edward W. B. Morrison, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, Lieutenant-Colonel William Bishop and General Sir Arthur Currie. Over the Main Street entrance, carved in stone are the words:
“We gave our today for your tomorrow.”
“We died that you may live.”
In our school office, one of only three handwritten facsimiles of “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae himself is on display. Memorial School was Hamilton’s first official war memorial Honouring men and women who died for their country. It still remains a powerful and moving testament to the bravery and sacrifice of all those who have fought in Canada’s Wars. Memorial is no longer a school that is meant to remember just those who died in the Great War. As history has shown, Memorial has evolved to become a monument that stands as a symbol of remembrance for the generations from that first terrible war, to the present and into the future.
On Wed. Apr. 4, 2007, a special service was held where our auditorium was re-dedicated as ‘Memorial Hall.’ CHTV was on hand to film the event, and a plaque was installed in front of the school to commemorate the occasion.