On this beautiful Friday, 12 November, the day after so many special and moving services across the country, we are focused not on a particular person, but chose to highlight instead the creation of the Soldiers Memorial Hall, Gagetown. Located at the corner of present-day Tilley and Court House Roads, the building was originally constructed for use as the second Gagetown Grammar School in 1870 and served that purpose until a larger and more modern school was built about 1918.
During the Great War, over forty “Gagetown boys” were in active service, six of whom did not return, along with three “Gagetown girls” as Nursing Sisters. The local community felt this service deserved a visible memorial so that future generations would be reminded of their “great service to humanity, and that their names and deeds may not be forgotten”, so said Mrs. H.B. Bridges, President of the Gagetown Women’s Institute. The W.I., in partnership with the Citizen’s Financial Committee were spear-heading the project.
In a neat and very professional brochure, the organizing committee outlined the purpose of the project, listed the names of fallen soldiers, and listed all those who served. The brochure was also a call for action and donations. As Mrs. Bridges noted, “To be worthy of the object in view, this undertaking will necessitate the expenditure of a large amount of money.” Of particular significance was that coincidentally, the new school had just opened across the street and the old 1870 building was available and recently secured by the committee. And in addition, the school had been the happy home of all of the boys and girls who served in the war at one time or another. On the cover of the brochure was a photograph of the old school along with the words “Where the steps of our childhood trod” and “Where the Boys went to School”, followed by “Will Now Be a Building to Honor Them.”
The Hall was finished in 1923, with the above plea for funds generating $3,000 toward the project (over $38,000 in today’s money). During renovation, several changes were made to the building for better access and for use as a general auditorium and community centre. The boys and girls entrances on Court House Road were boarded up and the main entrance shifted to the long side of the main section facing Tilley Road. Dormers were added to the high Victorian roof, the school bell and the cupola were removed, windows were redistributed and new ones added, an ell added to the west side, and the decorative elements of the eaves were simplified to reflect the 1920s Art Deco mode of architecture. One can still see remnants of the 1870s decorations on the north end of the building.
The Canadian Legion took over responsibility for the hall in 1966 and it continues to serve as the local Legion’s meeting place, community centre and of course, a soldiers’ memorial. Beside the hall sits the Gagetown Cenotaph, where services are held each November 11. The Gagetown Boys and Gagetown Girls may pause for a second, but today they would still recognize the building where they went to school and that has stood for almost a century as a memorial to their great sacrifices.