News

Canal memorial nears funding goal

By Grant LaFleche, The Standard

Artist renderings give an idea what the completed Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial will look like. (Supplied illustration)

Artist renderings give an idea what the completed Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial will look like. (Supplied illustration)

The fundraising campaign for the Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial has almost reached the finish line.

With recent funding from both St. Catharines City Hall and Niagara Region, the project is closing in on the $1.19 million needed to build the memorial to the workers who died building the iconic canal.

In recent weeks both regional and city councils each voted to approve $284,000 in funding for the memorial, bringing the total amount of money raised to date to around $934,000.

“We’re close now. We’re not all the way there, but we are close,” said Rebecca Cann, St. Catharines’ cultural services supervisor. “Greg Wight, who has been leading the fundraising campaign, has done a great job.”

In March, The Welland Canal Fallen Workers Task Force told city hall that it needed to raise $500,000 to complete the project to honour the 137 men who died building the canal from 1918 to 1932 and dredging the canal from 1932 to 1936.

When the canal opened in 1932, the then-federal minister of railways and canals Robert James Manion hailed the fallen workers as peace-time heroes and pledged that Ottawa would build a memorial to them.

But the memorial never came to be and, over decades, the project faded away.

The effort to make Manion’s unfulfilled promise a reality began in 2013 when local historian and former curator of the St. Catharines Museum Arden Phair pulled together as much existing data on the workers as he could.

By then, local historians Phair was working with had revised the number of workers known to have died to 124 from 115.

The Standard ran a series of articles on the men who died and published an online petition urging all levels of government to build the long-promised memorial. The petition not only produced thousands of signatures but also became a place where family of fallen workers told their stories, giving local historians more leads to follow.

After the Standard series, a task force of key stakeholders including then-St. Catharines Mayor Brian McMullan (and later current Mayor Walter Sendzik), local MPs and representatives from the regional government and local unions was formed to get the memorial off the ground.

The initial estimated cost to build the memorial was $450,000. At the time the task force was considering a bronze sculpture, and the estimate was based on the cost of the bronze.

Over time, the projected evolved to its current stage, which will be a small park near the Lock 1 Museum in St. Catharines. Designed by architect Dereck Revington, the memorial will include a large, black steel monolith with a quote from Manion.

“Peace has its heroes as well as war, and in a construction job of this magnitude, with its daily risk and hazard, the sacrifice of human life seems to be unavoidable,” Manion said in 1932. “In due course we shall see that the names of these workmen are suitably preserved and made an enduring portion of the great structure that rises not only as a monument to their effort and their lives, but to the efforts of the thousands of working men and engineering helpers whose unremitting toil, often in the face of difficulty and discouragement, made possible the triumph of the present hour.”

A March staff report to St. Catharines council said some $300,000 could be cut from project if necessary, including some landscaping and lighting. The report, which was written before the city and the region approved new funding for the memorial, said if the cuts were made it would negatively impact the memorial experience.

Cann said the option to cut some items from the memorial remains possible, but now that the fundraising campaign is so close to its goal, the hope is that the task force can raise the final $250,000 to build the memorial as envisioned.

She said fundraising is continuing and project will go to its tendering process in July. Parts of the memorial are currently being fabricated and Cann said the memorial should open in the late fall.

More information about the memorial and how to donate can be found at the city’s website at www.stcatharines.ca/en/governin/Fallen-Workers-Memorial.asp

 



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