Sharpshooters’ Ambulatory Memorial


Memorials, Ottawa / Friday, June 14th, 2013
Memories in bronze are also ambulatory.
Memories in bronze are also ambulatory.

In any number of ways, the 1885 Northwest (or Riel) Rebellion occupies something of an uneasy (when it’s not forgotten) space in Canadian history. Nevertheless, the Rebellion was one of the earliest opportunities that the young Dominion had to demonstrate some of its firepower and a number of cities erected memorials and statues dedicated to the event. In his classic standard Ottawa Old & New, Lucien Brault described the contribution as such:

When news of the Riel Rebellion reached Ottawa, military authorities ordered the formation of a volunteer militia corps in Canada. Ottawa’s quota was 53 sharpshooters, to be raised from the Governor General’s Foot Guards and the 43rd Regiment. The answer was so enthusiastic that names of volunteers had to be drawn. These soldiers serves at the battle of Cut Knife Hill where the Indian Chief Poundmaker was defeated by Colonel Otter. During the action, two of the Ottawa Sharpshooters were killed. A monument on Elgin St., formerly at the entrance of Major Hill Park, commemorates their fait d’armes. [1]

The Ottawa Sharpshooters returning from the North West Rebellion, July 1885. Source: LAC, Topley Series E, MIKAN No. 3406961.
The Ottawa Sharpshooters returning from the North West Rebellion, July 1885. Photo taken at Smith’s Falls, ON. Source: LAC, Topley Series E, MIKAN No. 3406961.
Unveiling of the Sharpshooters' Memorial. November 1, 1888. Source: LAC, Topley Series E, MIKAN No. 3362496
Unveiling of the Sharpshooters’ Memorial. November 1, 1888. Source: LAC, Topley Series E, MIKAN No. 3362496

The Ottawa Company of Sharpshooters returned from the west in July 1885 and a fund was quickly begun in order to erect a monument to their achievement. By 1888, sufficient funds had been collected and that November, the new memorial was revealed at the entrance to Major’s Hill Park, where Chateau Laurier currently sits. Of course, the growing city did not have the luxury of keeping such a monument in what would become a central location and it was relocated in October of 1911 to make room for the hotel’s construction [2].

When raising funds for the statue, the band did not play on without pay. Perhaps they weren't quite as interested in the Rebellion as others.
When raising funds for the statue, the band did not play on without pay. Perhaps they weren’t quite as interested in the Rebellion as others. Source: Montreal Herald, October 8, 1888
The unveiling of the memorial was well-attended.
The unveiling of the memorial was well-attended. Source: LAC Topley Series F, MIKAN No. 3394679

The memorial was next placed on the grounds of Ottawa’s City Hall (constructed in 1877), just down Elgin, past the Russell House Hotel. That did not mark the end of the journey for the memorial, however. In 1931, City Hall burned down. [3] Although city hall was gone, the Sharpshooters’ memorial, along with the more recent Boer War statue, remained on site until the construction of the National Arts Centre began in 1965.

 

Sharpshooters' and Boer War memorials outside Ottawa City Hall.
Sharpshooters’ and Boer War memorials outside Ottawa City Hall. Source: LAC, Department of the Interior Photographic Records, Series OT (Ottawa), MIKAN Nos. 3359048 and 3359047.
jar
Crews clearing the site located a medal. Source: Vancouver Sun, February 4, 1965.

Once again, the memorial had to move. Site preparations for the construction of the new Canadian Centre for the Performing Arts (now the National Arts Centre) began in 1964/65. When crews were removing the statues (to Confederation Park), a jar containing a commemorative medal and some paper was found in the base. [4] Both memorials remained at peace until 2006, when the Sharpshooters’ Memorial was moved across Laurier to rest outside of the Cartier Square Drill Hall. The Boer War memorial, however, remains in its more sylvan home at Confederation Park.

 

 

[1] Brault, Lucien (1946). Ottawa Old & New. Ottawa: Ottawa Historical Information Institute, pp. 164-5.
[2] Brault, Lucien. “The Sharp-shooters of 1885.” Ottawa Citizen, May 16, 1946. [1, 2, 3]
[3] Taylor, John H. (1986). Ottawa: An Illustrated History. Toronto: Lorimer, p. 99.
[4] “Jar Found Under Statue.” Vancouver Sun, February 4, 1965, p. 26. [1]

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