Odyssey of the unknown soldier from First World War

The body of Canada’s emblematic Unknown Soldier from the First World War was buried at the foot of the National War Memorial, 92 years after the war.

World War I

Prime Minister Arthur Meighen, on August 25, 1921, announced that the body of an unknown Canadian soldier from the First World War was to be removed from his grave in France and buried under the Parliamentary buildings in Ottawa.

“It is proposed,” said the Toronto Globe, “that the body shall be placed in a vault excavated in solid rock under the great archway of the Victory Tower [now known as the Peace Power] and between the two portals, which give entrance to the buildings. The grave will be set immediately below the altar in the memorial chamber overhead, and will be marked by a marble slab raised above the grave level. The slab will be suitably inscribed.”

The Ottawa Citizen noted that “As the tower has not reached completion and as the arrangements which have to be made will take some time, it is unlikely that the ceremony [of dedication] will take place before Armistice Day, 1922.”

As it turned out, it was 79 years before the ceremony took place. And the body of the unknown soldier was not, as Meighen had planned, buried in a vault beneath the Peace Tower of the Parliament buildings, but at the foot of the National War Memorial, about a block away.

Less than two weeks after the plan for entombing the unknown Canadian soldier in Canada was announced, Meighen’s Conservative government fell in the national elections on December 6. The Liberal government of Mackenzie King never carried out the plan.

On May 16, 2000, the remains of an unknown Canadian soldier buried near the historic Vimy Ridge battlefield in France, were exhumed and the casket flown in a Canadian Forces Aircraft to Ottawa. The casket lay in state for three days in the Hall of Honour in Parliament’s Centre Black. On May 28, in a nationally-televised ceremony, the body was re-interred in the Canadian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the National War Memorial in Confederation Square.

Almost 57,000 members of Canada’s armed forces were killed in the four years of the First World War, while 141,000 were wounded, many with lifetime disabilities. The graves of the European battlefields of the First World War held the bodies of 1,603 unknown Canadians; one of them now rests in Canada.

Unfamiliar Canadian History

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