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Sunday, 18 September 2016

The Antigonish Cenotaph Project

For years, Antigonish native Bill Landry participated in the annual Remembrance Day ceremony, marching in the parade alongside his fellow Antigonish Fire Department volunteer firemen and standing in silence throughout the solemn event. While he recognized two names on the First World War cenotaph—Tommy Kenna and Alex Landry were his grandfather’s cousins—he found himself wondering, “Who are the others? What are their stories?” Even the details of his relatives’ military service were a mystery.
Antigonish's First World War Cenotaph.
With the 100th anniversary of the First World War’s historic battles rapidly approaching, thought led to action. A long-time “student” of local genealogy, Bill “recruited” fellow genealogy enthusiast Paul MacDonald and Jocelyn Gillis, curator of the Antigonish Heritage Museum. Within a matter of days, the trio expanded to a committee that included several others who shared their interest in local genealogy and history.

Fraser Dunn had compiled an extensive list of veterans from the St. Andrews area and oversaw the construction of a monument in the village, bearing their names. Catherine (Laureys) MacGillivray, a regular contributor to the Antigonish Heritage Museum’s monthly newsletter, also joined the team. Marie Terese Redican, a Pennsylvania resident with family ties to the Antigonish area, extensive genealogical knowledge and resources, became an important “online” contact. James Matheson, a retired serviceman and member of the local Royal Canadian Legion branch, also came aboard. This blogger agreed to assist with the research, particularly the process of extracting information from war diaries, circumstances of casualty cards, and available service records.

The “Antigonish Cenotaph Project” thus came into existence, its mission to research the family background and war experiences of approximately 100 Antigonish town and county soldiers who died in the service of their country during the “Great War.” The Project’s goal is to publish each soldier’s story in the weekly Antigonish newspaper, as close as possible to the 100th anniversary of his death. The stories are also posted on a blog——precisely 100 years to the day of each soldier’s passing.

During the war’s first two years, a total of five Antigonish soldiers died in uniform, two fatalities due to sickness. Their stories are currently available on the blog. Local fatalities dramatically increased when the Canadian Corps move to the Somme region of France in late summer 1916. From September 15 to November 14, 1916, a total of 17 Antigonish natives died during fighting at Courcelette and Thiepval Ridge (Regina Trench), France.

Committee members are currently completing research on the soldiers who died in 1917 and will publish their stories in the local newspaper and online as each anniversary arrives. Once completed, the committee hopes to publish the entire collection in a pamphlet. For now, you can visit the committee’s Word Press blog page and read each soldier’s story, published on the 100th anniversary of his passing. “We will remember them.”

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