he administration at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., is planning to demolish Memorial Library to make way for a new centre for fine and performing arts. Memorial Library was built and dedicated in 1927 as a cenotaph to honour the students and alumni who gave their lives in the First World War. Friends and family of the war dead donated about 80 percent of the construction funds with the expectation that this solid stone building would be a lasting monument.
When the Wesleyan Methodist Conference of Great Britain established this university in 1839 with the support of local businessman Charles Allison, the school was committed to providing an education that would shape young people’s moral growth while developing their minds and bodies. It is therefore not surprising that many young scholars rallied to the call of country during the hostilities that became known as the Great War.
The Methodist Church supported the war efforts. Its general superintendent, Samuel Dwight Chown, characterized the war as “a world struggle for liberty against military despotism.” His words, echoed by university leaders, encouraged an unusually high number of students to head to the battlefields of Europe.
By October 1915, campus newspaper The Argosy was reporting the first casualties. By 1916, one third
of the student body had gone overseas. By the end of the Great War, the number of dead had climbed to 73, a large toll considering the enrolment in those years was only a few hundred students.
Later, during the Second World War, Mount Allison students and alumni again responded to Canada’s call for combatants. By the end of that war, an additional 90 names would be added to Mt. A’s list of war dead. Some of the dead were United Church ministers serving as chaplains. Many more were United Church members. Allisonians paid a high price fighting for the freedom that we all enjoy today.
Following the First World War, the university wanted to commemorate the contribution made by Allisonians overseas. In 1919, the Methodist Church led the efforts to raise money for the Memorial Library. The church’s original subscription appeal reads as follows: “Those who have been saved the horrors of the battle front should have hearts moved with gratitude toward the men who have suffered and died in their stead. The Mount Allison boys who are out there ‘in Flanders Fields’ to stay deserve all the honors a grateful country can bestow on them. . . . If your friend has suffered, if your boy has died, how could you better honor his memory than to have his name placed where it will go down through the years cherished and revered by successive generations of grateful students.” Family and friends responded generously.
The university administration says it would cost an additional $5 million to save Memorial Library, a figure they have yet to substantiate. Jack Diamond of the Toronto architectural firm Diamond and Schmitt completed a facilities master plan for the Mt. A campus in 2002 and recommended that Memorial Library be incorporated into the new fine and performing arts centre. This would respect the memorial and maintain the architectural integrity of the campus core.
To learn more about Memorial Library and how you can voice your concern about its proposed destruction, please visit www.eastmarket.com/smash
Eugenia Coates is a member of Jolicure United and lives in Point de Bute, N.B.
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