The Seven Books of Remembrance

by M-Gillies

The Seven Books of Remembrance list the names of all the men and women who sacrificed their lives in service for Canada.

As the central axis of the Centre Block of the Canadian Parliament building in Ottawa, Canada, the Peace Tower has long been a much-photographed fixture in Canada. With its bright flag fluttering over the nation’s capital, an arrangement of numerous stone carvings, from gargoyles, grotesques and friezes − with its Nepean sandstone walls and reinforced concrete-cooper roof, the Victorian High Gothic-styled building has long been an architectural feature and landmark within Canada, but has, for many years served its primary function as a memorial, housing within its walls, the honors of thousands of Canadian men and women who sacrificed their lives for their country in World War One.

Among the high stained glass windows, cusped arches and fan-vaulted ceilings of the Memorial Chamber is Canada’s soaring artistic achievement – a solemn beauty of sacrifice; of peace and hope. Resting upon the Altar of Remembrance, with its pages open and protected by a glass-topped case; watched over by statuettes of kneeling angels, is the first − of seven − Books of Remembrance.

Surrounded by seventeen marble plaques, which record the full arc of Canada’s participation in defence, The Books of Remembrance are the compilation of names of the men and women who died in service to Canada, commemorating the lives of more than 118,000 Canadians since Confederation.

Days after Paris was bombed by German zeppelins for the first time, devastation struck Canada on February 3, 1916 when the Parliament buildings in Ottawa burned down. Rumors were rife with tales of enemy sabotage, even after conclusions determined the cause of the fire to be accidental.

However, reconstruction of the Parliament Building began quickly, with Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden dedicating a site in the Centre Block of the Houses of Parliament to a new structure which he said would be “a memorial to the debt of our forefathers and to the valor of those Canadians who, in the Great War, fought for the liberties of Canada, of the Empire and or humanity.”

With construction lasting eleven years, The Tower of Victory and Peace – otherwise known as The Peace Tower, was first created with the intention that all names of Canadians who died during the battles of the First World War be engraved on the walls of the memorial Chamber. However, due to space restrictions, the walls were unable to contain the names of more than 66,000 names of those who had died.

As a means to commemorate the soldiers, Colonel A. Fortesque Duguid, DSO, suggested the idea for a Book of Remembrance and with minor alterations made to the memorial chamber to accommodate the book, London, Ontario-native, James Purves was commissioned to begin work in 1931. While it was expected that the book be completed in five years, many rare materials were needed to create the book, delaying the completion. When preliminary work had been done, along with one page being fully illuminated and illustrated, Purves died in 1940, resulting in all his work being handed over to his assistant Alan Beddoe.

Through Beddoe, the artist adorned the pages with elegant classic illustrations in bold, striking colours. With 125 names per leaf, he completed the beautiful book in 1942 and further incorporated many pages commemorating particular actions, battles and places of significance to Canadians during the war. For the next 30 years, Beddoe would continue his career on the Books of Remembrance until his death in 1975.

The Memorial Chapel in the Peace Tower in Ottawa, Canada houses the Seven Books of Remembrance.

Each year, more than half a million visitors view Canada’s Books of Remembrance in the Memorial Chamber on the second level of the Peace Tower, which represent, individually and collectively, the highest expression of modern workmanship and artistry − from the craftsmanship, heraldic illumination to the calligraphy, water coloring and bookbinding.

Every morning at 11 a.m., the pages of the Books of Remembrance are turned by a member of the House of Commons Protective Service Staff. A guard in uniform bows before the Books of Remembrance and salutes before turning the page. A calendar was devised so that family and friends know in advance exactly what date their loved one’s name will appear on the newly turned page.

In order, the Books of Remembrance include:

The First World War Book of Remembrance, written with the intention to be the sole book in the Chamber. It is located in the center of the room, the book contains the names of over 66,6000 Canadians.

The South Africa – Nile Expedition Book of Remembrance, is the book which honors those who volunteered for service during the campaign against the Boers in 1899-1902, as well as those who participated in the Nile Expedition from 1884-1886, which marked Canada’s first overseas campaign and contains the name of 283 Canadians.

The Newfoundland Book of Remembrance was written to honor those Newfoundlanders who perished during the First and Second World War, and are listed separately from the main books as Newfoundland had not yet joined Confederation at the time of the conflicts. In this book, the names of 2,363 Newfoundlanders are documented.

The Second World War Book of Remembrance focused on those Canadians who made the ultimate sacrifice from 1939-1945. While the names listed there within are fewer then the First World War, with 44,800 names recorded, the names have been collected from farther regions of the world.

The Merchant Navy Book of Remembrance is the fifth book of the collection and honors the merchant seamen who died during the critically important re-supply missions during both the First and Second World Wars; containing the names of 2,199 Canadians.

The Korean Book of Remembrance is a collection of 516 Canadian names honoring the men and women who died during the Korean War from 1950-1953.

The In the Service of Canada, Seventh Book of Remembrance is a recorded collection of the names of those who have died in military service to Canada, either at home or abroad, since October 1947, with the exception of those who were already entered in the Korean Book of Remembrance.

Read more:

The Memorial Chapel | Parliament of Canada

The Books of Remembrance | Veterans Affairs Canada



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