The World Wars and Saskatchewan Art

This is a sketch, but it is timely as people are remembering the 100th anniversary of the  beginning of the First World War this year, a war in which over 888,000 Commonwealth servicemen and women died and countless others were maimed for life.

I don’t think anyone has ever written on the topic of Saskatchewan art and the World Wars.

Although many of the more elaborate World War I memorials across the province were imported in the 1920s, Saskatoon’s cenotaph memorial and University of Saskatchewan memorials were designed and constructed primarily in the province. Additionally, the province of Saskatchewan’s First World War memorial, the Albert Street Bridge in Regina, was also designed and made in Saskatchewan.  I must mention here a new blog called Saskatchewan’s Virtual War Memorial which, among other things,  deals with the subject of some war memorials in Saskatoon and Regina and other Saskatchewan locations.

World War I 1914-1918

May 6, 1918 – Private J.H. Miller, a young Regina artist who exhibited his landscape paintings in Regina Summer Fairs prior to and after the war found out that things are different in the flying corps in Ontario.

Edgar Rossie, prominent Regina photographer, took his fair share of recruit photos in World War I and World War II but it was revealed in his 1942 obituary that he also spent $75.00 a month in World War I on comfort items for the troops and took photos of enlisted men at cost in World War II.   One of his most affecting World War I photographs appeared in the Morning Leader March 13, 1918  honouring Regina and vicinity mothers who had at least three sons in the services.

1918 Rossie photo moms of war cropped

Imagine how many enlisted men this photo represents and how much misery…

Although news of the war was omnipresent in the newspapers, actual photographs of World War I, apart from portraits of leaders, participants and fallen, were few and far between.  Amazingly, though, I did find quite a number of Canada’s Official War Photographs published in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix in the months of February and March, 1934. A February 28, 1934 headline (cannot link) on top of a group of photos mentioned that they were being published at the request of the Canadian government. There is probably some reason for the photographs being published on this date but I don’t know what it was.

The war memorial planned for the province of Saskatchewan makes an interesting story.  Initially, the plan after the war was to build a war museum on the grounds of the legislature, which would also function as a provincial museum. (See: Nov. 29, 1918; Dec. 31, 1918; Aug. 20, 1919Feb. 3, 1919Feb. 17, 1926 Morning Leader) This is very reminiscent of architectural plans drawn up for a National War Memorial museum in Ottawa to house the World War I Canadian War Memorial Art Collection after the war. This vast collection of art was initiated by Lord Beaverbrook in England and is now housed in the recently built Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.  Beaverbrook’s idea for the collection’s placement in a purpose built museum was never implemented and the collection was ill-housed and notably inaccessible to Canadians for many decades.

The Saskatchewan War Museum never got off the ground either but the idea lasted for some time into the 1920s.  Apparently, there was what was termed “a great model” which was exhibited at the 1920 Regina summer fair.  Whatever happened to the model designed by the architectural firm of Nobbs and Hyde of Montreal?

Eventually, the Saskatchewan government did get around to building a war memorial which took the form of the only bridge in Regina, the Albert Street Bridge, originally known as the Memorial Bridge.  An early Depression work project, it opened in 1930. The initial intention  was to place the names of all Saskatchewan’s war dead on terracotta plaques on the bridge but that never happened and it would have been physically impossible anyway.

See the Regina Public Library’s history blog for photos of the bridge:

And Regina in Pictures for more photos of the restored bridge

A more recent memorial on the Regina Legislature grounds has accomplished that original intention. Regina Virtual War Memorial

Having walked across the Albert Street bridge a few times as a kid in Regina and admired its design, I have to say I had no idea that it was the provincial war memorial so perhaps the new monument is more meaningful. Although, I think, as a history hound,  Saskatchewan would have benefited most from the original idea of a provincial museum. It took decades for that to come about and a lot of historical material was lost to other places in the meantime.

The war memorial that was built for the City of Regina was the subject of some controversy.  The newspaper articles themselves say it best.  (May 11, 1925; May 12, 1925; July 23, 1925 Morning Leader)  But this is a good time to mention F.C. Clemesha, a Regina architect, whose firm Clemesha and Portnall submitted a design for the National War Memorial in Vimy, France in 1922.  They were both war veterans. Clemesha’s design came in second in competition to the magisterial memorial conceived by Walter S. Allward, which was eventually built in France in the late 1920s.

Clemesha's design with Allwards CBMC Competition, Veterans Affairs Canada2

 This photo from Veteran’s Affairs shows the models submitted to the Canadian Battlefield Memorials Competition in 1921. Clemesha’s design is on the right side in front of Allward’s. The two designs are clearly superior to the other submissions.

The competition judges recognized that Clemesha’s design was a less expensive and suitably significant solution to memorialize soldiers at other locations.  In the end, Clemesha’s ‘Brooding Soldier’ was only erected at St. Julien cemetery to commemorate Canadian soldiers’ deaths at the second battle of the Somme in Belgium, despite plans to use it in other places.  You can read about it on the Internet.  One example with illustrations is:

Wooden models of Clemesha’s design were on display in the Saskatchewan Legislative Building, allowing Saskatchewan citizens to see the design. Photos of these models can be seen at the Legislative art collection’s flickr website.

The Regina design controversy described below is related to Clemesha’s moving and distinctive monument design.

One could almost say that he was the originator of the design that was used for Regina’s cenotaph, making it a Saskatchewan vision, although proper credit should be given to the Montreal designer. It’s interesting that the Wikipedia entry for the St. Julien monument describes Regina’s cenotaph as a replica of Clemesha’s design, as that is what the controversy described in these Leader Post articles was about. (Feb. 10, 1926, Feb. 12, 1926 Morning Leader) I’m on the side of the architects.

PC002629 Cenotaph Regina Regina’s Cenotaph from Peel’s Prairie Postcards

But at least it wasn’t as bad as Winnipeg’s memorial competition.  Despite the fact that it is nice to see a woman sculptor winning a competition, this was for all the wrong reasons.

As far as I know, no Saskatchewan sculptor was ever approached to fashion a war memorial prior to 1950.  There were no bronze foundries until the second half of the twentieth century and most of the sculptors then living in the province were female and made clay models, so they were unlikely to be approached.

Saskatoon doesn’t appear to have had as much controversy in its choice of war memorials but the story of a couple of them is closely tied to the visual arts – the most famous one being the Nutana Memorial Collection of Art.  The story of this collection has been written about and it is easy to find stories about it online.  I am including here the news story about its dedication in 1927. It was said to be the only war memorial like it in Canada and Nutana School’s Library has housed an art collection ever since.

A lesser known story is related to the Memorial Union Gates, the University of Saskatchewan’s memorial to its fallen in World War I.

These stories appeared in the Phoenix (Nov. 12 & Nov. 16, 1927).  Although, I haven’t been able to find any other references to these fund raising art exhibitions, it is clear that the showing of art raised a considerable sum for the erection of this memorial to students and faculty who died in the Great War.

PC002925 U of S Memorial Gates 1930 Memorial Gates in their original placement c. 1930 From Peel’s Prairie Postcards

The glazed, beribboned terracotta plaques that line the first floor walls of the historic Administration Building (now the Peter McKinnon Building) with names of U of S war victims on them have had more impact on me as someone who was associated with the University between 1973 and 2000 because the Gates, which used to mark the roadway entrance to the University, were long ago moved to a less-travelled spot on the edge of campus.  See images of the ribbons at:

Saskatoon’s civic  cenotaph memorial to World War I, designed by F.H. Portnall of Regina (Clemesha’s former partner), was distinguished by the inclusion of a large clock in its structure, apparently the only memorial like it in Canada.  It stood in the centre of 21st Street, diverting downtown traffic around it until it was moved by necessity to the grounds of the new City Hall park in 1957.  It is still there today, like Regina’s cenotaph, the focus of Remembrance Day ceremonies every year.

PC002841 Saskatoon 21st St 1930s From Peel’s Prairie Postcards, Saskatoon’s Cenotaph in its original placement

There were a number of exhibitions of patriotic prints and posters which occurred during World War I and after ( Jul 1, 1915, Sep 11, 1915, Oct. 6, 1919 Morning Leader) but few Saskatchewan artists, apart from David Payne and J.H. Lee-Grayson, both maimed WWI veterans made any imagery related to the war.  But one shouldn’t forget Inglis Sheldon-Williams, who as a resident English artist with connections to Canada, was asked to make art for the Canadian War Memorials project run by Lord Beaverbrook in London near the end of the war.

It seems pretty clear that the exhibition of works of art from the Canadian War Memorials project mounted by the National Gallery in 1919 did not circulate in Saskatchewan, although the IODE, as great supporters of the Empire, presented prints of some of the images to schools in Saskatchewan. (Feb. 8, 1923 & Feb. 19, 1923 Morning Leader). The IODE seems to have represented the women of Canada at an obscure unveiling in Ottawa in 1925, reported in the back pages of the Morning Leader.  I call it obscure because I had never heard of this monument before, despite being aware of the wonderful works of art made in tribute to Canadian women’s war work by sculptors like Frances Loring and others. I wonder where it ended up.

Far more relevant to Saskatchewan are the war-related images made by Noax, the Morning Leader’s cartoonist throughout World War I, because they reflect a local point of view.

Morning Leader Sep 25, 1914

1918 Noax riff on poppies cropped

Morning Leader May 11, 1918

Unlike the painters of Saskatchewan, his job was to focus on the news, not the landscape or portraiture, and he delivered comments upon both the horror of the war and Saskatchewan’s patriotism in his cartoons and his illustrative work for the newspaper. On one occasion, he provided his services for a Victory Bond Loan Fund drive. (Nov. 13, 1918 & Nov. 14, 1918) This is how he represented the announcement of the 1918 peace on the front page of the Morning Leader.

I did find mention of a couple of Regina artists Eva Popham & A. Perring Taylor donating a work of art to raise money for the Red Cross and a hospital fund and I assume there were others. In Saskatoon, Mrs. Janet King  donated the money she received from teaching art pupils to the Red Cross.

As with all other Saskatchewan people, the lives of artists were disrupted by the war, either by war service or the shutting down of normal pursuits and activities and venues used for exhibiting art work.  Women’s cultural groups were encouraged to do work for the war and that is mainly what they did, effectively abandoning any pre-war efforts to raise the profile of art in Saskatchewan.

World War II 1939-1945

Institutions for art had advanced somewhat by World War II and the declaration of war did not slow down their inner momentum. See the Art Gum columns in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix (1942-1945), which are cognizant of the war but do not focus on it. However, schools and venues were taken over for the use of the armed forces and the war effort, men and women who had worked in the communities were absent, and life did not go on as usual.

As in the first world conflict, exhibitions of patriotic material circulated during the war but so did National Gallery Collections and others, perhaps less frequently owing to transportation priorities and other difficulties.

Canada had its own War Art Program in World War II, begun in 1942 at the instigation of Canadian artists.  However, few of the artists associated with it were from the West. Campbell Tinning, a former Saskatchewan artist, worked for the War Art Program.  See webpage for examples of his paintings. or the Legion Magazine page  A biography is on the SNAC website at:

Artists formed groups and were surveyed by the government to see what they could offer to the war effort in 1943.  The YMCA of Canada arranged cultural services for troops in Canada. I believe that the Saskatoon exhibit of Canadian art sponsored by the National War Services  held at the YMCA in 1945 was part of this program.   At the very same time (see  same link) a Canadian Army Art exhibition came to Saskatoon’s Art Centre that featured work by enlisted artists from across the country.  Few of the Canadian war art paintings ever made their way out west after they were shown in Ottawa at the National Gallery in May of 1946.  The Canadian War Art Museum is a very recent institution and most of the art, like that made in the First World War, was hidden in storage for decades.

In 1940 the Regina LCW Arts & Letters Committe held a one man showing of the work of Illingworth Kerr, who had been in Europe at the start of the war, and bought his war-related painting of a submarine Big Fish, which hung in Regina Library for many years. J.H. Lee-Grayson, Regina’s talented illuminated address maker, created a Tribute to the Civilian Brave of England which was exhibited in Regina in the early 1940s and later hung in the Library.

 A sapper from Lloydminster serving in Britain was one of many armed forces artists who got to hang their work in London’s National Gallery for a war time show.

Many artists donated work for charitable causes in World War II, the Red Cross being one example and the Victory Bond Loan program another.  Fred Steiger was a frequent donor  & designed a tableau for a Victory Bond Loan drive in Saskatoon. Ernest Lindner  made a  1940 picture donation for the Red Cross and created a painting and scroll to donate to a war-torn town in Russia. They were only two artists whose charitable endeavours were publicized.  Since both were born in German speaking countries, they may have felt compelled to make sure that everyone knew where their sympathies lay. No artist in Saskatchewan was rich enough to be donating paintings.  But during the war, for example, the Saskatoon Art Association dedicated one of its exhibitions as a fundraiser for the Red Cross.

1939 Teitelbaum Miasma of the Mind croppedSteiger was one of the few figurative artists in Saskatoon during World War II who painted human reactions to the war but a young Mashel Teitelbaum painted an image powerful enough to be reproduced in the Star-Phoenix on the cusp of the outbreak of World War II on Jan. 28, 1939.

The University of Saskatchewan’s art historian, Gordon W. Snelgrove, gave public lectures on the war effort as it related to art and also made people aware of Canadian war memorials across the country and in France in his Regina and Saskatoon public lectures.(Nov. 5, 1940; Nov. 12, 1941 Star-Phoenix are examples) He adjudicated the Saskatchewan section of the Army Art Exhibition and asked his Emma Lake students to forego their usual fall reunion supper to collect war stamps.

Many fewer memorials and cenotaphs were raised after World War II because of the building that took place after World War I. But as a memorial to the University’s fallen in World War II, the Memorial Union Building was erected at the University of Saskatchewan.  It may not immediately signify as a monument to the University’s war dead but it provided a desperately needed space for the war survivors to meet in when they flooded the campus as students in the reconstruction period.

After the war, the Regina Rifle Regiment commissioned a painting to honour their service from Orville C. Fisher, a B.C. artist who was part of the War Art Program.  In 1948 a new Royal Canadian Legion Hall was constructed as a practical memorial to southern Saskatchewan’s war dead and photos of its modern interior appeared in the newspaper.

Although women artists did serve in World War II in the CWAC and Women’s Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force, the vast majority of them did not.  Many tried to help in whatever way they could at home. The Regina Arts & Crafts Society  and the Women’s Art Association’s Fine and Applied Arts Guild both maintained a war work section which knitted socks and made quilts. Toward the end of the war the Regina Arts and Crafts Society also assisted the rehabilitation of wounded veterans in D.V.A. hospitals  with training in handicrafts and sales outlets for their work. (See many reports of the Regina Arts & Crafts Society post in the 1941-1946 period) As a charitable venture, a Regina woman opened a hobby shop in 1948, where disabled veterans could sell their crafts.

The situation was slightly different in Saskatoon where the Saskatoon Arts & Crafts Society was not composed of craftspeople, but marketers of crafts created by non-members.  As the war went on, disruptions in their carefully built network of sales outlets both within and outside the province, and the lack of availability of such materials as Irish linen and silk thread, meant they were unable to supply their artists with materials. That and the rise of local groups of craft artists and ethnically-oriented societies who preferred to represent and market their own crafts led to the demise of the society shortly after World War II. The hobbyists in  the Saskatoon Craft Guild also suffered from lack of materials but soldiered on. (May 13, 1943 Star Phoenix)

Although a fire in a Saskatoon building in December of 1942 was not caused by the war, it led to the demise of a Saskatoon art institution during wartime.  Tyrie’s Art Shop and Framing Company, managed by Edith Tyrie, a figure in Saskatoon’s early art clubs and a capable artist and exhibition designer, was now out of commission. As a result, she became a member of the Women’s Division of the RCAF offering her services as a photographer.

On the subject of photography, I have not found a single thing relating Saskatchewan photographers to the war in the newspapers.  However, two Regina men received some press for their involvement in making documentary war films overseas.  (See: my Photography and film section.)  This photograph of the National War Memorial below by a Star-Phoenix photographer was featured in 1947, not only because it was close to Remembrance day but because it won a prize from the Saskatoon Camera Club.

1947 War memorial related photo

The many photos of individual servicemen that appeared in the newspapers with the cutline DIED FOR HIS COUNTRY were, I suppose, story enough for most people. Their sheer number certainly affected me while I was scanning through the war years. But I also ran across this item in the Leader-Post from 1958 featuring veterans of World War I which made me smile.





It is often forgotten that the wars not only brought Saskatchewan out of economic depressions but created periods of chaos and catching up called Reconstruction afterwards. Things were only ‘normal’ in Saskatchewan after the Riel Rebellion of 1885 until the Great War (20 years) and for about 10 years in the 1920s before the Great Depression and Drought of the 1930s. Things weren’t normal again until about the time I was born in the wave of baby boomers that arrived in post-war years. Of course, Saskatchewan’s indigenous people had it much worse because their ‘normal’ was always changing throughout the entire period.  For example, Corporal Alex Brass from Pelly could get his name in the newspaper for being awarded a World War I military medal but, because he lived on a reserve, it is unlikely the names of any of his nine children ever appeared on a voter’s list until 1961, the year of full enfranchisement.

Having known grandparents who lived through the poverty and deprivation of the Depression in the 1930s and having had parents born in the Depression era who had grown into high school students during World War II, I have heard stories that make my hair curl. Fortunately, for the sake of my own existence, my direct ancestors were either too old or too young to serve in the armed forces during the wars.

It is no wonder that the CCF party (forerunner of the NDP) first came to power in Saskatchewan in 1944. They offered light at the end of the tunnel for ordinary people in Saskatchewan who hadn’t seen any for decades –and they delivered.

I was a recipient of all the wonderful social benefits that came from that ideology, allowing me to grow up in a much better, more civilized place than my parents experienced.  Although, the ever-present danger of world nuclear annihilation which hung over my childhood certainly affected my psyche as much as their own experience of it affected them.

My Saskatchewan in-laws, who came of age during the 1930s, were half a generation older than my parents. My father in law, born before World War I, lived through the Depression as an adult, married in the war and managed to survive an overseas service as a tail gunner with the RAF in Bomber Command in 1944-1945. On top of that, they brought up their own children under the mind-numbing threat of the H-Bomb in the 1950s.

Every generation has its trials but it seems to me that my own Saskatchewan generation was very lucky by comparison with the earlier pioneer generations of the province. To punctuate this, here is a 1941 report I found of a 94 year old lady living in Saskatoon who had lived through five wars and a not too promising pioneer experience in the province.

One thought on “The World Wars and Saskatchewan Art

  1. rclipblog

    A portrait Of Chief Poundmaker, done in oils by the artist Richard Lindemere, hung in the officers’ mess of the HMCS Battleford during World War II. After the war, the ship was sold to the Venezuelan navy. The painting was badly damaged by salt water and flooding and was sent to a firm in Vancouver for restoration. In 1976 it was gifted to the University of Saskatchewan by Eileen Bell of North Battleford.



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