After almost nine decades of service, the soldier that once adorned the cenotaph in Elmira has found a much more comfortable home for his retirement: indoors at the Woolwich Memorial Centre. While the exact location is still under discussion, the marble statue has been restored to its former glory after suffering a multitude of injuries over the years. It could be seen this week standing by an office window near the entrance to the facility.
Removed from his perch in late 2009 and eventually replaced with a bronze replica, the soldier was put into the hands of craftsmen at The Stone Centre to undergo extensive repairs. Vandalized over the years and subject to a sometimes harsh environment – including acid rain and salt sprayed up from Arthur Street – the Carrara marble figure was in several pieces when he arrived at the shop, located in Woolwich immediately adjacent to the Bridgeport area of Kitchener.
Despite the statue’s treatment over the years – compounded by yet another break when it was removed from the base in the cenotaph – it was in surprisingly good condition, said the owner of the The Stone Centre.
“He was in pretty good shape. This was above-average work for this kind of project,” Garth Nelson said of the original marble carving.
That said, more than a hundred hours of labour was needed to get the soldier back in tiptop shape.
The work was done in conjunction with a U.S.-based restoration specialist, Jonathan Appell, who was at the workshop to conduct a training course. He got things rolling by using a special epoxy to put the large pieces back together, tricky work, said Nelson, noting special bracing was needed to keep the 1,000-pound statue upright and its weight properly distributed to ensure the gluing was effective. With that done, the next step was a complete sanding by hand in order to remove an outer layer of yellowish-brown, the result of someone having used bleach at some point to clean the statue. “Bleach is not suitable for marble. It probably looked good for six months, but after that, well, you get yellowing,” Nelson explained.
The sanding was followed by some painstaking work, including recarving some of the facial features and clothing details, fixing a badly chipped nose and addressing the wear and tear that occurred in the years after the original installation in 1923.
A bayonet that once adorned the rifle, long since disappeared thanks to vandals, was recreated with the aid of a Hamilton-based history buff who provided pictures that allowed a new bayonet to be carved from marble to match. Mortar for the new joints and some judicious use of patching marble were the finishing touches.
The soldier you can see today at the WMC looks much more like the one unveiled at the cenotaph almost 90 years ago.
“He looks pretty good now. The work turned out really well.”
Created by the firm of Walton, Gooddy & Cripps Ltd., which produced war memorials in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, the carved soldier is similar to many that adorn cenotaphs in Ontario and elsewhere, though both the marble and the detail in the work set it apart from some of the others. In fact, the statue was featured in a 2009 book about Italian Carrara marble by British art historian Sandra Berresford.
The original cenotaph was unveiled on Aug. 5, 1923, having been built for $1,200. The Second World War memorial, added at a cost of $800, was dedicated in 1957. The Korean War portion was dedicated in 1988 at a cost of $744.
With the restoration complete, what remains now is to find a new home for the statue. Director of recreation and facilities Karen Makela said this week the township is looking to select the ideal spot at the WMC. To that end, it will be consulting with groups such as the Elmira branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, which requested the marble statue be housed at the WMC, in keeping with the ‘memorial’ portion of its name.
Calling the restoration a “marvelous job,” she said the township is determined to find the right location, a visible spot where the solider can be seen “standing guard for the building.”
The township is also in discussion with the Legion about funding for the cenotaph project and the restoration, she added.
On that front, Nelson said he had submitted a bid of $2,000 to do the work – much less than a restoration project of that scope would normally cost – but still hasn’t heard back from the township. He went ahead and did the work anyway because the specialist was available at the time, seeing it as a worthwhile and interesting project. Whether he gets paid remains to be seen.
“It was a fun project for the winter, when things are slower here,” he said. “The important thing is that it got done.”