When it was unveiled in 1870, the Volunteers' Monument embodied the pride and grief of a fledgling nation. Funds for its creation poured in from across Ontario and east to Nova Scotia.
The day after it was unveiled, the Globe considered it equal to monuments on the Plains of Abraham, and the Brock Monument at Queenston Heights. For Toronto, it seemed to mark a coming of age.
The monument was erected to honour and remember the Toronto militia volunteers killed in the Battle of Ridgeway on 2 June 1866. They were fighting Irish-American Fenian insurgents who had invaded Canada near Fort Erie in the hopes of holding Canada ransom for Irish independence. Nine riflemen from Toronto’s Queen’s Own Rifles Regiment were killed, including three University of Toronto students. The entire city shut down for the funeral procession to the Necropolis.
Beginning in 1890, thousands gathered annually at the monument to commemorate Canada’s first modern military casualties: the Ridgeway Nine. The service of remembrance grew to include South African War and Great War dead. Held in May or June, it became known as Decoration Day. In 1931, an act of Parliament moved the annual commemoration to 11 November and renamed it Remembrance Day.
Today, the weather-worn Volunteers’ Monument is all but forgotten, cut off from its original relationship with Queen's Park and rendered all but invisible by new buildings at the University of Toronto.
By: Peter Vronsky