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MacCarthy Page 34c.3

Great Canadian Art & Artists

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Boer War Memorial, Halifax, Hamilton MacCarthy, 1901
Orig. monument
Found - Halifax, NS

The monument today, compared to how the site looked a hundred years ago, from period postcards right.

The corner stone, for Hamilton MacCarthy's fabulous Boer War memorial, situated beside the Nova Scotia Provincial Legislature, was set by the Prince of Wales on Oct. 19, 1901. He, and Princess Mary, were the first Prince and Princess of Wales to visit Canada, right in the middle of the Boer War. The Prince would also hand out medals to returned veterans. Two weeks later, on Nov. 1st, the Heroes of Paardeberg came marching down George Street in the background. They were home, home from the wars...

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Boer War Monument Cup, Halifax, NS c 1905
Orig. cup - Size - 75 mm
Found - Cass City, MI
The Boer War saw the first widespread setting up of "memorials to the fallen" across Canada.

The odd memorial had been set up, before, to commemorate the dead in the Crimean War, the Fenian Raids of the 1860s, and a few more followed the Riel Rebellions, after 1885.

But the Boer War saw memorials going up, at an unprecedented rate, in towns all across Canada, and Hamilton MacCarthy created among the finest.

The Boer War also coincided with the blossoming of ceramic souvenir art, small pitchers, cups, dishes, and plates, featuring "I was there" tourist views of important public buildings and monuments, as people started taking trains to visit tourist destinations, mostly within their own provinces.

The Boer War era also saw the first blossoming of picture postcards, for the first time many in colour. Those who couldn't afford the small souvenir ceramics could always send back a postcard.

Many people collected binders of postcards, which, in the 21st century are turning up frequently at local auctions.

The two Boer War monument postcards are, by far, the most common Halifax postcards to be found from the early 20th century.

Hamilton mounted his marvellous bronze statue of a volunteer on top of a magnificent pedestal of alternate blocks of fashioned marble and granite. As usual he copied the uniform with strict attention to detail. But Hamilton always seemed to make his bullets on the bandoliers too large - his monument at Brantford shows the same oversizing - making them look like thick .45 calibre Martini-Henry cartridges, which the Boers were using, instead of the slim .303 bullets the British and Canadians were using in their magazine loaded Lee-Metfords.

On four sides of the monument he inset four marvellous bronze panels which he wonderfully set off under a marble cornice, supported by columns of polished red granite topped with Ionic capitals, sitting on top of a marble base. The panels honoured the three Canadian services which served: Infantry, Mounted Rifles, and Artillery.

Hamilton MacCarthy 3 - 1846-1939

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Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Postcards, Boer War Memorial, Halifax, NS - c 1906
Orig. pc - Size - 9 x 13 cm
Found - Montreal, PQ, St John, NB
Hamilton's bronze panels illustrated key highlights in the adventures of the Halifax volunteers.

The Departure from Halifax was a huge civic event with boats of all sizes gathering in the harbour, as bandsmen, children, and dogs were all prominent among the well-wishers on shore.

The Mafeking panel features the Canadian guns that were key in putting the Boers to rout and raising the storied siege that made Colonel Baden-Powell forever grateful to the Canadians. The dead horse is symbolic of the starvation that the garrison there suffered - actually only the Blacks starved - until the siege was lifted.

The panel shows the skill Hamilton needed to give perspective in a three dimensional format when you only have an inch to play with.

The engagement at Witpoort, featuring the action of the Canadian Mounted Rifles at which Lt. Borden, below the Defence Minister's only son, was killed, was featured in the third panel.

Paardeberg, in the fourth panel, was Canada's biggest battle of the war, and the cause of most battle deaths among the Canadians.

Hamilton makes use of a famous Bacon print of the time in showing the Canadians in the foreground - they were in the advance trenches when the Boers decided to surrender - as the hands go up after a ten day bombardment that killed hundreds of animals, a few of which are shown.

Hamilton signed off on the panel bottom right and on the main statue as well. Canadians passing by should pause, and pay homage, not only to civilian volunteers of a by-gone age, but to one of Canada's most creative artists of all time.
The figure for the statue features the volunteers from the first months of the war, the infantrymen - the Heroes of Paardeberg - who did not even embark at Halifax but boarded the Sardinian at Quebec. Though on their return, after a year in South Africa, the men did offload at Halifax to a fantastic welcome, and then took the train to their various destinations across Canada.

Subsequent contingents went to Halifax by train and left on various ships as others returned, in 1900, and 1902. Each send-off or welcome was attended by thousands of Haligonians crowding the harbour.

Hardly two weeks before the Prince of Wales installed the cornerstone for this monument, the Heroes of Paardeberg marched under the Welcome Arch on Barrington Street, and turned left to go down George Street.

Only a few feet further on, on the right, they would pass Province House, and the corner stone on which the Volunteer, suited in their likeness, would one day sit in proud recognition of their service to their Queen and Empire.

Go to the Troopships Depart

The Genius of Hamilton MacCarthy (1846-1939)

What a joyful symphony of art and architecture! What a marvellous mix of great ideas and fine materials, that result here in a monumental creation that exceeds the abilities of mere mortals.

Today's home builders merely put up a shell of two by fours, and clad it with vinyl; architects on bigger buildings throw up a frame of steel girders and cover it with glass. As easily done, as said. Joyless engineers do the erecting mostly, just going bigger and higher, relying, for creativity, on slipping and sliding on the old slide rule.

Is it any wonder that more and more people - not only men, but women too - these days, are saying that one erection looks just like any other.

The art - what's that? - is all in the spin afterwards; remember, need we remind you, there is art in a fart too...

Not so in Hamilton's day...

To create a monument Hamilton, left and his fellow Canadian artists, like Hébert, Hill, Laliberté, and Allward, had to be far more than engineers, who today, control the erection of our urban architectural landscape.


First, Hamilton had to come up with an overall plan for the monument; which people, places, and events was it supposed to honour and how?

Next he had to plan the structure, the aesthetic fusion of form and materials, for the supporting platform: What stone support (granite, sandstone, marble, limestone, as a single block or in tiers of blocks? What shape, what combination of straight lines and curves? What architectural elements (columns, pedestals, friezes, cornices, etc.)? What design decorations (flags, torches, scrolls, wreaths, bronze panels, etc.)? What story telling components (names, battles, dedications, events etc.)? An endless stress-filled search for what was right, what was perfect?

Each one of these was an artistic creation in its own right, with Hamilton having to come up with exactly how he would fuse, say a wreath with crown and names, a set of flags with names, or a scroll with names and torches. Then, where do you put them, so they form an artistic grouping, not only among themselves, but add to the swelling symphony of the monument as a whole.

Finally the crowning achievement: the monument of the volunteer.

Should the volunteer look aggressive or mean - the way the Boers saw them all - or sad and sorry - inconsolable over the loss of companions?

Hamilton chose the middle ground, a cheery victory wave, probably after the Battle of Paardeberg. It could symbolize that war, and the killing, is over and peace is nigh. Still, it shows the soldier was there to be counted when the country called, as a recruit for a job that needed to be done. It is a fine monument for a civilian who volunteered for war, but hailed the coming peace.

Beside the statue is Province House, the Parliament of Nova Scotia, and the oldest legislature in Canada, built from 1811-1819, out of Nova Scotia red sandstone.

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