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A Unique Memorial

by Leah Behrens

Several South Walkerville streets were named to commemorate people and places from World War I.

Photo: Sir Julian Byng, Governor General of Canada 1921-26

The street name Ypres had always been a mystery to me. I’ve lived near this boulevard on Marentette for almost eight years. After learning NOT to pronounce it YEYE-PRESS, I often pondered it’s meaning as I drove down the 40 km/hr crawl through South Walkerville to Walker Road. While researching for this story, I got a history lesson that, being a Canadian, I am surprised I had never learned.

I discovered that intrigue not only lies behind the name of Ypres, but in all the east-west running streets in South Walkerville. Along with Byng and Turner, they combine to express a memorial to the Canadians who fought in the First World War. History has been permanently etched in these street names. Reflecting commanders of Canadian troops and the battles fought in Belgium and France, each is an illustration of memories of the Great War of 1914-1918.

Throughout this war, and for many years after the fighting ceased on Armistice Day (November 11, 1918), details of the disastrous drama were in the forefront of everyone’s conscience. The names of St. Julien and Ypres stirred up memories of Belgium tragedies where Canada lost thousands of her young men in a matter of days. The botched and bloody battle at the French Valley of the Somme cost Canadians 24,029 men. Recollections of French catastrophes lurked behind the names of Alsace and Lorraine. Verdun, however, represented glorious gains for France, just as Amiens and Arras were examples of Canadian conquests against the Germans. In Lens, Canadians triumphed against the enemy, costing them 20,000 men. Vimy was a portrait of strategic success, as Canadian troops recaptured the French Ridge from the Germans.

Regardless of the victories, the war experience and the total number of young men massacred on the battlefields were horrific. No one would be quick to forget the precious price that had been paid for freedom. Windsor lost 132 men to the Great War, while 269 were wounded in action. The neighbouring town of Walkerville was robbed of 20 lives, including that of Lieutenant Walter Hoare, son of Walkerville Mayor Dr. Charles W. Hoare (1917-1918). The community welcomed home 46 men who were wounded in action. Life could never be the same again in the aftermath of the long, 52-month war.
The close of WWI opened the chapter of the Industrial Revolution. Windsor and Walkerville both experienced a population boom that caused their numbers to more than double. Before the war, Windsor’s inhabitants were numbered at 17,829. By 1921, the city’s size had exploded to 38,591. Walkerville increased from 3,302 to 7,059 during the same ten year period. The desperate need for housing caused these communities to expand their boundaries. The early 1920s ushered in an abundance of prosperity for the Border Cities. This unbelievable growth contrasted the anguish the war had brought during the last decade.

However, no amount of success could distract anyone from honouring the men who had valiantly fought in the Great War. In June of 1920, France and Belgium presented the government of Canada land on which to erect memorials to commemorate the victories won by Canadian soldiers against the Germans. Patriotic enthusiasm was also alive in the town of Walkerville. During that same year, the first subdivision plans to open up the south end of Walkerville were approved. The east-west avenues of Lens, Vimy, Ypres, Somme and St. Julien were named as permanent reminders of the battle sites made famous during the Great War. Lieutenant-General Sir Richard Turner was immortalized in the naming of the first north-south running road west of Walker Road. Sir Julian Byng was also a Lieutenant-General who commanded the Canadian Army. Respect for this British leader was so great amongst the Canadian troops, that they began to call themselves the Byng Boys. After his career as a war commander, Byng went on to become Governor General of Canada. The next street parallel to Turner was named in reverence of Byng.

After these streets were built, Walkerville continued to flourish. In 1924, the Essex Border Utilities Commission approved a plan to expand this housing project. Alsace, Loraine (spelled slightly different from the Lorraine of WWI), and Verdun were added to this growing war memorial. Four years later, Walkerville Land and Building Company put in the finishing touches with the 1928 construction of Amiens and Arras.

The City of Windsor also set aside commemorative grounds to respect the memory of those who gallantly gave their lives during the Great War. In June 1925, Windsor’s latest acquired lands at its south-east border were designated as Memorial Park. Memorial Drive, which used to connect Howard Avenue to Walker Road, ran behind the park and through the southernmost reaches of Walkerville.

Learning of the impact Canadians had during WWI and the stories behind the street names in South Walkerville is a fascinating study. I am left to wonder why this momentous facet of Canada‚s biography was overlooked when I was in school. Dusty history books, old newspapers and a few museums keep memories of the Great War alive as the last of its veterans pass on. The memorial in South Walkerville is in danger of becoming merely a list of frequently mispronounced street names. Majestic monuments and military graves for the Canadian soldiers who fought and died amongst the trenches are half a world away. In the middle of this city lies our modest tribute. While it is not lined by graves and poppies, the message in the roads between the homes and the trees is the same: Lest we forget.


 

 

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