Fully restored statue returns to school
By Linda Nguyen
A bronze soldier has stood proudly in front of Harbord Collegiate Institute for 83 years. He’s watched students saunter in and out of class each day, watched as they skateboard and chatter at his feet, but most importantly, he’s watched over them.
Nicknamed “Our Soldier” by the school community, he stands as a reminder to each passing generation of the 75 former staff and students who lost their lives in the First World War, and encourages them to remember the 500 from their high school who served for this country.
“There was so much eroding. Our Soldier looked worse for the weather and it was no way to treat the monument, the only monument dedicated to [the First World War] at any high school in Canada”—Sid Moscoe, Harbord Club
But for the first time, the soldier is not standing in his usual spot and students, although unsure exactly of what he represents, definitely miss his presence.
Chantal Goncalves, 15, says though she doesn’t know what happened to the soldier, Harbord isn’t the same without him. “I think [the soldier is] getting fixed or something. I don’t really know what it represents, probably soldiers going to war. No one told us really, but it’s weird that it’s not there.”
But the truth is, his disappearance has been calculated and planned for the past four years.
Sid Moscoe, 79, a member of the Harbord Club, says the statue was suffering from so much wear and tear that something needed to be done, and fast. “There was so much eroding. Our Soldier looked worse for the weather and it was no way to treat the monument, the only monument dedicated to [the First World War] at any high school in Canada.”
So for four years, the Harbord Club has been raising money to pay for the soldier’s full restoration. And now, with over 300 contributions from private donors, including a large donation from the Garfield Weston Foundation (Weston is also a Harbord graduate), $43,000 has been raised.
On Remembrance Day, Our Soldier will return to his rightful spot in front of the school in a lavish ceremony that will include appearances from political dignitaries, alumni, and a performance from the school choir. All students in the school will pose to recreate a photo taken in 1922 during the original unveiling of the statue. In addition, two students will read their winning essays from a Grade 10 history contest.
Murray Rubin, who attended the high school in 1945, says the essay contest, which will award the two winners with $100, is a way to make the students aware of the history around them in their school.
“The kids today don’t have that feeling in Canada that the war was important and should be remembered. We have to instill it and this [restoration] will do the job. To them it may just be a statue, but the fact that the monument is being looked after has made an impact on students.”
Tim Dingwall, a Harbord history teacher, says that to him, the events surrounding Remembrance Day were something very exciting that he’s never experienced before. “I’m really impressed by it. It’s a very dynamic relationship between Harbord and its history and I know the students appreciate the opportunity to reconnect with history.”
One of Dingwall’s students, Alexandra D’addetta, 15, says she’s eager to start her essay and hopes she will win the contest.
“My grandfather was in World War Two supplying food to soldiers so I definitely care about Remembrance Day, but more people should care too. Anyone can win this contest, why not? I might win. Have some faith in yourself.”
But it’s this faith that is dwindling as the years pass and few First World War veterans are left to tell the tale. Currently there are fewer than five living veterans in Canada from that war.
For Tom Medland, 79, the tale is still too real. His father, a Harbord graduate, was one of the students who fought in the First World War. Medland says that ceremonies like the one planned at Harbord are very important to the community and to the country.
“It’s important for any young person growing up to know the history of the country and how it all began and what it involved. My children were always conscious of what the soldiers did because they grew up knowing their grandfather and seeing pictures of the war. It’s important that everyone gets the opportunity.”
Rubin says when Our Soldier is returned, he hopes students will get the opportunity to understand the battles and struggles that it represents at Harbord.
“The First World War is nothing but history to them but this [soldier] will bring it a lot closer to the school.”
The Harbord Club hopes to raise another $90,000 to install a monument to Second World War veterans on Remembrance Day 2006.
Reprinted from the October 2005 edition of The Annex Gleaner.
The original version contained some typographical errors that have been corrected.
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