Walter Seymour Allward, R.C.A. 1876 - 1955
Renowned Canadian Sculptor
Plaque located at: 43 Amelia Street, Toronto, ON, Canada
Allward first worked or apprenticed as a draftsman for the architectural firm Gibson and Simpson before working at the Don Valley Brickworks where he modelled terra cotta decorative panels.
His first commission at 19 years of age was the figure of “Peace” on the North-West Rebellion Monument which is located in Queen’s Park, Toronto (1895). His other early works included the “Old Soldier“, commemorating the War of 1812 in Portland Square, Toronto (1903); and a life-sized figure of Dr. Oronhyatekha (chief ranger) commissioned by the Independent Order of Foresters (1899).
Now well established he received commissions to do busts of Lord Tennyson, Sir Charles Tupper, Sir Wilfred Laurier and others. On the grounds of Queen’s Park are statues of Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe (1903), Sir Oliver Mowat (1905), John Sandfield Macdonald (1909), and William Lyon Mackenzie (1940).
Allward was elected as associate of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1903. His diploma work, “The Storm” (c1920, bronze) is in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada.
His heroic monuments include the South African War Memorial on University Avenue, the Baldwin-Lafontaine Monument on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, and the King Edward VII memorial in Ottawa.
Walter Allward’s most important commission was the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, a monument to Canadians killed in the First World War built in Vimy, France (April 1917). Vimy Ridge’s impressive location and vantage point as much as the battle’s significance contributed to its selection. He began to sculpt the figures in clay in a studio in London, England. The clearing of the dangerous 100 hectare site of unexploded bombs, artillery shells, and grenades took two and a half years. It also took two years to find a suitable stone for the memorial. Eventually it was found in a quarry near Sarajevo, Yugoslavia where in 1914, the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife had precipitated the outbreak of the First World War.
It took fourteen years and $1.5 million dollars to complete. Designed in the early 1920’s, construction started in 1925 and was completed in 1936
Allward stated in a 1921 interview that his idea for the memorial was inspired by a wartime dream that he had never forgotten: “When things were at their blackest in France, I went to sleep one night after dwelling on all the muck and misery over there, my spirit was like a thing tormented… I dreamed I was in a great battlefield. I saw our men going in by the thousands and being mowed down by the sickles of death… Suffering beyond endurance at the sight, I turned my eyes and found myself looking down on an avenue of poplars. Suddenly through the avenue I saw thousands marching to the aid of our armies. They were the dead. They rose in masses, filed silently by and entered the fight to aid the living. So vivid was this impression, that when I awoke it stayed with me for months. Without the dead we were helpless. So I have tried to show this in this monument to Canada’s fallen, what we owed them and we will forever owe them.”
Known as “ Allward of Vimy” Walter Allward’s greatest works have become a vibrant part of our national heritage.
Allward appears as himself in the novel The Stone Carvers by Canadian author Jane Urquhart.
A few other plaques honour Allward. One was installed in the median on University Avenue near Queen Street. Another is in Brantford at the Bell Memorial Gardens. A plaque has also been installed near his grave in the Saint John’s Anglican (York Mills) Church Cemetery in the northern part of the city.
Hear him talk: