Saturday, 2 November 2013

Midhurst - Vespra Boys Cenotaph

Location:  Simcoe County   N 44 26.393  W 079 45.723
Located inside Springwater Provincial Park.  Follow the signs from Highway 26, park at the front gate and follow the path to the right, for 300 metres.

This historic memorial represents a story which is much more involved than meets the eye.  The area where the memorial was erected is an area of conservation, of remembrance, and currently of conflict.
This area been used as traditional lands of the Native people who have lived here successfully for over 10,000 years, the rich hardwood forests supplying them with the means to survive and thrive.  During the years of settlement, the Natives where eventually replaced by settlers and their farms.  The land soon became barren, due to the sandy soil which could not support the toils of farming, and turned to a windblown wasteland of desert.  Along came one of Ontario’s most prominent conservationists, Dr. Edmund Zavitz, Ontario's first Chief Forester, who developed the idea of planting pine trees to stabilize the soil and thus helped to save the landscape across southern Ontario.  Dr. Zavitz, along with future Premier Hon. E.C. Drury(1919-1922) established Ontario's first demonstration forest right here, near Midhurst, in an area which had eroded to the point of no return and also contained several life-giving springs to sustain and grow his beloved pines.  The springs are an important headwaters for the Minesing Wetlands, an internationally  important, RAMSAR Convention wetlands. The Minesing Wetlands is the last, largest continuous wetlands in southern Ontario.  For years this area was used by “Zavitz’s Boys” as a training ground for conservation and forestry.  Over one million pines were planted in the Midhurst Forest Station, and eight to ten million seedlings were distributed across the province
With the outbreak of war in 1914, many of the local boys headed off to Europe to further serve their country and fight for freedom.  Many never came back, and eighteen men from Vespra Township(now Springwater Township) lost their lives in the conflict.   Dr. Zavitz arranged to pay tribute to these brave souls by erecting a monument in this forest, among the pines and natural springs, to pay tribute to the Vespra Boys.  A stone cenotaph was hand-built in 1929 by local men Robert Mills and Harvey Spence under the direction of Methven A. Adamson, Superintendent of the Forest Station 1929 – 1956, The Vespra Boys cenotaph was the central focus of the Vespra Legion Branch 149 which started in 1929, had over 120 members at its height and was de-commissioned in 1974 because its membership fell below the minimum allowable. Two engraved plaques of limestone where embedded on the stone cairn.  The inscription on the white marble front piece is Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori – Latin from Horace meaning: It is sweet and right to die for your country. In 1913, Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori was inscribed on the wall of the chapel of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, UK the British Army officer initial training centre. The phrase can be found at the front entrance to the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater at the Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, USA.  On the back of the cairn, originally was a fountain of spring water, the essential element of life, along with a suitable plaque.  In front of the memorial was once a small pond and fountain, a symbol of eternal life, now filled in and removed.
After the Second World War, a “V” for Victory was created across the bank of a small stream behind the memorial.  The original configuration was made of Yew trees, and later changed to a stone V-shaped garden, which can still be seen today.
The area was designated a Provincial Park in 1958, and continued to grow, not only as a recreation area for the people of this region, but also as an area of continued conservation and appreciation of nature.  Springwater Provincial Park is a tremendous asset to the people of Springwater Township and visitors alike.
The current provincial government, in its wisdom decided to close Springwater Park in October of 2012, along with nine other Provincial Parks.  With encroaching development from Barrie, and the value of this land as a prospective tax base, the future of this beautiful park is under a severe threat.  Shortly after the announcement of the closure of the park, the area was occupied by several Native people, destined to save this historic and unique forest from development.  The Natives still occupy the park today, but allow visitors to enjoy the forest and roam freely under the tall pines.
The memorial itself is also under threat of being removed, with a group called  Springwater Park Citizens Coalition trying their best to protect not only the park, but also to protect the memorial and keep it here in its chosen location, rather than have it moved to another location and possibly being damaged in the process.  Recently the memorial was subjected to a severe sand-blasting of the stonework and several of the adjacent flowerpots and decorations were damaged in the process.  The work done to the memorial has vastly changed the look, destroying the attractive patina acquired from years of weathering, and also caused cracks in the mortar, which will be destructive once the cold weather and ice wreaks its havoc.  Why the Ministry of Natural Resources used such a destructive method is scandalous, although they claim they are trying to restore and preserve the cairn, they seem to have caused more damage than good.  This memorial is one small obstacle in the future development of these sacred lands, one which will be removed if the current political agenda is allowed to continue.  Hopefully the will of the citizens of Springwater can win out over the tax-seeking, developer endorsed politicians of Ontario.

This year on November 11th, a traditional Remembrance Day ceremony is scheduled to take place, despite the current situation, which will also include a tribute of the Native contribution to our nation in times of conflict.  In the past, the MNR had placed a wreath at the cenotaph, but there had never been a proper ceremony.  Now with the closing of the park, the local people are taking it upon themselves to do what is right.

The names of the eighteen Vespra Boys lost in the Great War:

·  Arthur Bell

·  Frederick Benson

·  Ernest Cloughley

·  Lewis Cole

·  Ernest A. Finlay

·  Wilson Greaves

·  Wilfred Higgins

·  Herbert Roy Hodgson

·  George Hodgson

·  Arthur Jacobs

·  Wallace Key

·  William Lang

·  Garnet Maw

·  John Muir

·  William Parker

·  James Henry (Harry) Priest

·  Stanley Reynolds

·  George Selkirk

Marker text:



1 comment:

  1. Thank you Tim for your tremendous efforts in documenting the Vespra Boys cenotaph. It is an important heritage asset to our area and a community's sincere expression of the severe affects of the first modern expression of warfare. November 11, 2013 marked the second Remembrance Day celebration since the Vespra Legion Branch 149 became inactive in 1974.

    Thanks again Tim.


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