Winnipeg Cenotaph controversy — Hahn’s winning entry was unanimously selected by judges

by Bruce Cherney (part 2)

The cenotaph committee announced on December 23, 1925, that the winning entry was submitted by Toronto sculptor Emanuel Hahn.

“This design (entry designated No. 33) adopts the cenotaph form suggested by the Memorial committee ...,” according to the judges' report on Hahn’s winning entry. “The outline is of great dignity and picturesque effect. The interest is powerfully and skillfully concentrated on the two main figures, one at each end of the central mass. The sentiment is simply and directly expressed in a manner about which no doubt can be felt and no question need  be asked. Great prominence is given to the tragic aspect of war, apt to be forgotten in times of peace. The direct sculptural expression here employed has been felt by the board to give this superiority over all other designs submitted. It has fine architectural and decorative qualities, and these have been combined with, yet subordinated to, the impression of the high quality of sentiment.”

The fives judges were termed an independent body headed by University of Alberta professor of architecture C.S. Burgess. The other judges were  James McDiarmid. W. P. Over, J.H.G. Russell and Eva L. Jones.

The report further said the memorial lent itself well to using granite and highly recommended that this type of stone be used in the construction of the cenotaph.

Yet, it wasn’t long before objections were raised against Hahn, especially by the Winnipeg Board of Trade (the forerunner of the chamber of commerce), the Traveller’s Association, the Manitoba chapter of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE), and returned veterans associations. They felt it was inappropriate to have a memorial “designed by a man who, though a naturalized Canadian, was German-born.” The groups wanted the design limited to people “British-born or born in countries that were allies of Britain during the war.”

Hahn, born on May 30, 1881, in Reutingen, Württemberg, Germany, was 11 years old when his family came to Canada in 1892. He studied modeling and commercial design at the Toronto Technical School and Ontario College of Art and Industrial Design from c. 1899-1903. 

In 1901, Hahn designed the bronze reliefs on the Robert Burns Monument in Toronto, and by 1903 was working for the Canada Foundry Company.  In the same year, he left to study art in Germany, returning to Toronto in 1906, when he became a monument designer for the Thomson Monument Company. He was also a studio assistant to sculptor Walter S. Allward, helping to design monuments to the Boer War, telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell, and Baldwin-Lafontaine, the men who led the movement in the 1840s that resulted in the formation of responsible government in pre-Confederation Canada. In 1912, Hahn was appointed as the modeling instructor at the Ontario College of Art, eventually becoming head of the sculpture department, a position he held until his retirement in 1951. He co-founded and was the first president of the Sculptors’ Society of Canada. 

Hahn was also a coin designer. His most memorable designs are the voyageurs on the Canadian $1 coin, the caribou head on the quarter and the Bluenose schooner on the dime.

In addition, a war memorial designed by Hahn in 1924 became the template for other cenotaphs across the nation.

According to the February 25, 1926, Free Press, War Memorial Committee chairman Richard “Dick” Deans Waugh said “they were gathered  under extraordinary circumstances, and he hoped the proceedings would be carried on in the spirit of a labor of love, with the object of trying to reconcile, as far as possible, the difficulties in connection with the matter.”

A.B. Parker, the secretary of the board of trade, expressed thanks for the committee’s efforts, but said awarding the design of the cenotaph to Hahn was out-of-step with the wishes of Winnipeggers. He called for the cancellation of the Hahn contract and re-opening of the cenotaph design competition.

“I have nothing to say against Mr. Hahn personally,” said Parker. “He may be as good a Canadian citizen as any of the men protesting against the award. We submit, however, that naturalizing of an individual does not make him a Canadian in the true sense of the word. He may be naturalized, but he does not come on an equal footing in any sense.”

Waugh was amazed by this comment, asking Parker, “Do you make that statement seriously?”

“Yes,” Parker replied.

“Are you representing the Board of Trade when you make the statement?”

“Yes,” Parker answered. “That mere naturalization does not make a good Canadian.”

Parker added that to ask a German-born man to build the monument was “like asking the relative of a murdered man to accept a memorial or tomb constructed by the cousin of the man who committed the murder.”

Minnie Campbell, representing the IODE, urged that the cenotaph be designed by a “British-born subject.”

While several committee members attempted to speak in support of the Hahn design, they were met with jeers. At a February 24, 1926, meeting at city hall, one individual went as far as to remark that if the monument was designed by a man born in Germany, he would not take off his hat when he passed and would be more inclined to spit on it.

Waugh said the committee had originally contemplated limiting the competition to British-born, but said such a criteria would have weakened the pool of talent and barred such noteworthy Winnipeg residents as sculptor Hilliard Taylor, who was born in France, and University of Manitoba architect Prof. Arthur Stoughton, who was born in the United States.

Also speaking on behalf of Hahn were H.L. McKinnon and J.R. Coslik, who pointed out that the Toronto resident had been in Canada since age 11 and denying a naturalized Canadian the award was not in the spirit of “British fair play and sportsmanship.” (The men were booed for making this comment.) They also pointed out Hahn had an excellent reputation as a sculptor and Canadian.

Not only was Hahn’s place of birth objected to, but some, including Mayor Ralph Webb, were displeased with the committee’s decision to erect the cenotaph at the Portage Avenue entrance to Memorial Boulevard. Webb said traffic considerations had not been taken into account when the decision was made.  “That corner will be in a few years the busiest in Winnipeg ...” he wrote in a letter to the committee.

The Winnipeg mayor favoured erecting the cenotaph on the legislative grounds.  

The controversy intensified when the Grand Army of United Veterans passed a resolution at the end of February, calling for the design to be reconsidered, with the designer being “unquestioned British and preferably Canadian, birthright.”

At another meeting, the Guards Association in Canada passed a resolution expressing regret about the controversy, which it said was bound to instill hard feelings in the community. The resolution advised dropping the matter in favour of erecting housing for veterans with “mental troubles” resulting from their experiences in the Great War.

But not all groups opposed Hahn’s winning design. The Rotary Club voted 63-21 in favour of the award to Hahn, and the Navy League also endorsed the award.

Waugh, who was born in Scotland and was a founding member of the Winnipeg Real Estate Exchange (now WinnipegREALTORS®) in 1903, said the matter had gone beyond whether to award the design, but the very nature of Canadian citizenship. At a committee  meeting, the former Winnipeg mayor said he had always believed naturalized citizenship carried the same rights and privileges afforded British-born. 

“If it does not,” he said, “it is going to come as a shock to the widely-distributed body of naturalized citizens in Canada.”

“The question is whether Mr. Hahn living here 23 years and a naturalized citizen is considered as good a citizen as one British-born,” said Max Steinkopf, a lawyer who had come to Canada from Poland at an early age. 

Although a significant portion of the Winnipeg population were classified as British subjects — which included anyone born in Canada (no official Canadian citizenship existed at the time) — almost one-third of the city’s residents were born outside of Britain, with the largest  representation from Russia (Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Hungarians, and other Slavic groups), followed by the United States, Scandinavia (Swedes, Icelanders, Norwegians, Danes, Finns), Poland, Germany and Italy (source: 1921 Canadian Census).

Under the conditions supported by the various objecting organizations, almost a third of Winnipeg’s population was unable to participate in the design competition regardless of how long they had resided in Canada as naturalized citizens.

The board of trade on March 12, 1926, decided it had to clarify its stand: “As misconceptions appear to have arisen regarding the board’s attitude toward the Hahn cenotaph award and involving the status of naturalized citizens, the board makes the following statement ...

“The purpose of the cenotaph is founded in patriotism and sentiment. It is to be a memorial to our glorious dead — a shrine for those whose loved ones made the ultimate sacrifice. The sentiments and feelings of those who would worship at this shrine should be our first consideration. The board’s protest ... was based solely on a regard for the sentiment of these citizens. The board having received ample evidence that a memorial, the work of a German born, would, under all the circumstances attending the late war, be unacceptable to many of our citizens who had suffered most by the war in personal sacrifice and the loss of dear ones.”

The board said the question of citizenship had never been considered in its original resolution protesting awarding the design to Hahn, and it “does not recognize any difference between Canadian citizens, whether born or naturalized as such. This is amply demonstrated by the fact that the board has elected two naturalized citizens to its chief office of president during recent years.”

The board of trade said it accepted the committee’s opinion that Hahn was a good Canadian, and found no inconsistency in objecting on the basis of recognizing the feelings of the majority “most closely associated with the tragedies of the war and every way possible reserve for them an atmosphere surrounding that memorial which will not in the smallest degree distract from its sanctuary.”

What the cenotaph committee understood, and the board of trade did not, was that such a memorial had to be all-inclusive. Foreign-born Canadians had also died in the conflict overseas, and their families also lost loved ones. 

As an example, many naturalized Icelanders were among the foreign-born who fought and died for Canada during the First World War. 

“We, who were not born in this country call ourselves Icelandic when asked, “ said J.J. Bildfell in a speech to Icelandic-Canadian soldiers going overseas to  fight in the Great War, “but our representation in the war as Canadians shows our loyalty to Canada, our determination never to forget how well we were received and how good our new country has been to us.”

But during the war, thousands of formerly naturalized citizens — born outside Canada after March 31, 1902, and in enemy countries, as well as hundreds of Mennonites living in Manitoba — were disenfranchised under the Wartime Elections Act of 1917. Of the 171,000 Ukrainian immigrants then in Canada, 80,000 were disenfranchised and lost their rights of citizenship.

Prime Minister Robert Borden’s Union government attempted to justify this measure as necessary in time of war. But one Liberal MP sarcastically summed it up best, when he said, the enemy aliens were being disenfranchised because the government suspected them of committing “the high crime and misdemeanor of being liable to vote Liberal at the next general election.” 

The massive wave of immigration to Canada prior to the war was promoted by the Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s Liberal government. Interior Minister Clifford Sifton, who oversaw immigration to Western Canada, was responsible for bringing Eastern Europeans to Canada. He said, “I think a stalwart peasant in a sheep-skin coat, born on the soil, whose forefathers have been farmers for ten generations, with a stout wife and a half-dozen children is good quality.” 

His many Conservative critics felt Sifton had betrayed Canada by allowing Slavic Eastern Europeans into Canada. 

(Next week: part 3)