Ontario War Memorials visits and reports on the Vespra Boys cenotaph

November 26, 2013

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. 

Excerpt from OntarioWarMemorials.blogspot.ca:

Midhurst (Vespra Township)
Saturday, 2 November 2013


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:








*Special thanks to from Mr. Les Stewart MBA, of the Springwater Park Citizens Coalition, for providing a guided tour of the site and for his never-ending quest to save Springwater Park. His notes and knowledge helped greatly with this posting.

Mr. Tim Laye was invited to document the war memorial at Springwater Park in the summer and the visit happened on October 18, 2013, one week after the sandblasting happened. Words and pictures: Tim Laye


Just a reminder about Remembrance Day at Springwater Park on November 11th

November 2, 2013

And a plea not to change what community leaders built circa 1929.

Clint Lovell2

Restore only as is necessary to preserve the design and structural integrity of a community heritage gem. When in doubt, do nothing and respect the builders’ thoughts and actions

A nice announcement by A Channel on October 31st about Remembrance Day (click here for details) called, Local students take on special Remembrance Day project:


Students at Eastview Secondary School in Barrie have taken on a special project for Remembrance Day.

They’re researching the soldiers who are commemorated by the cenotaph at Springwater Park.

The Cenotaph, dedicated to the soldiers from Vespra who died in World War I, is being rededicated. The Friends of Springwater Park started the project and the students are helping learn more about the 23 names carved on the memorial.

Half a dozen students are doing the work and will be reading a little bit about the soldiers they are researching at the rededication on Remembrance Day.

Let’s hope Nancy Bigelow and the Friends of Springwater Park and Mr. Clint Lovell are not changing the monument by putting the names on a plaque and fixing the plaque on the cairn. The intent of men who built the cairn (Maj. Meth Adamsonwho directed it being built), Robert Peacock, Harvey Spence and Charlie Day) was NOT to record the names.

The sacrifice was borne largely by the deceased and their family but the whole community was affected.

Someone did check with Major Adamson’s children and grandchildren (many with prominent lives in Barrie) before they planned to change his design, didn’t they? Or at least the Springwater Heritage Committee. Right?

Why do people think they know better than those that death has silenced? if they wanted the names, don’t you think they would have done it back then? Are they listening even now?

Charlie Day and me

The ‘Vespra 149’, Royal Canadian Legion, 1929 – 1974

November 1, 2012

Over 100 members strong at one time between the two world wars.

The Vespra 149 club room still exists on Nursery Road at the Ministry of Natural Resources.


The Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 149

The Royal Canadian Legion, British Empire Service League, was formed in the Minesing Orange Hall in May, 1929, by veterans of the Great War, from Minesing, Midhurst and other parts of Vespra. It was called ‘Vespra 149’, and was unique as it was the only rural branch in Canada.

A Charter was applied for in Minesing, but at that time, the Midhurst Forest Station had started, and the superintendent, C.R. Lane, who was interested in the branch, invited them to make their headquarters at the Reforestation Blacksmith Shop.

A lunchroom was added and the branch made their clubroom. The Hon. Wm. Finlayson had this room turned over to Vespra 149 for their meetings. The branch organized social groups. They had a good quartet and a baseball team. World War II veterans joined and boosted the group membership to over 100. A special day was held annually at the reforestation grounds, with sports, races and entertainment for both sexes. Ball teams from Midland, Orillia and Barrie took part in the event. Remembrance Day services and parades were held there.

Mr. Meth Adamson, Superintendent, was instrumental in having a cenotaph built of stones from the area. Harvey Spence and Robert Mills, both of Midhurst, built it. It has a water fountain and two Lee Enfield Mark III rifles purchased from the Department of Defence. A special stone in the cenotaph has the following inscription: ‘Lest We Forget 1914-1918, In Memory of the Vespra Boys who died in the Great War, Dulce et Decorum Est pro patria Mori.

As the veterans passed on and people moved away, the branch membership fell below the 12 people required to hold a charter, and so, in 1974, Vespra 149 was disbanded.

Midhurst Historical Society

The History of Vespra Township, Vespra Township Council, August 1987, p. 142.

The fireplace inside the at-one-time Vespra 149 club room. Note the similar construction to the Vespra Boys cenotaph.

Will the Vespra Boys cenotaph in Springwater Park be abandoned to the unthinking?

October 24, 2012

A beautifully modest and sincere memorial to the 17 (now 18) men who died in The Great War.

A lily pond with gold fish. A drinking fountain so everyone, especially children, could drink, be refreshed and thrive because this “empty tomb” gives life.

For Christians, an empty tomb don’t mean defeat or sadness: with faith, they  speak to us of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice in defeating death and creating everlasting life for all time. Tombs are joyous, hopeful symbols of living, growing communities and the Vespra Boys cenotaph is placed in the heart of Springwater Park whose journey has been described as From Wasteland to Parkland by others.

Remembrance Day is not about two solitudes: the dead and the living. It’s about the continued relationship between those who have passed on and those of us who are called to honour them while still alive.

A simple enough request:

Lest We Forget
In Memory of the
Vespra Boys
who Died in the
Great War

Dulce et Decorum Est pro patria Mori
[It is sweet and right to die for your country.]

The Vespra Boys

  1. Arthur Bell
  2. Frederick Benson
  3. Ernest Cloughley
  4. Lewis Cole
  5. Ernest A. Finlay
  6. Wilson Greaves
  7. Wilfred Higgins
  8. Herbert Roy Hodgson
  9. George Hodgson
  10. Arthur Jacobs
  11. Wallace Key
  12. William Lang
  13. Garnet Maw
  14. John Muir
  15. William Parker
  16. James Henry (Harry) Priest
  17. Stanley Reynolds
  18. George Selkirk

— As recorded in A History of Vespra Township, The Vespra Township Council, 1987 and amended by family request. Please advise me as to corrections as there are some discrepancies between this book and the Barrie cenotaph.

Harvey Spence and Robert Mills built the cenotaph under the direction of Methven A. Adamson (Pioneer History of Midhurst, 1975, p. 61).

Originally published on iLoveMidhurst.ca on October 10, 2012.

Heritage does Matter: Tree nursery, Springwater Park and, then, the Vespra Boys cenotaph

October 24, 2012

Alive communities rise to challenges.

An important article entitled Pine Forests and a Park [Word pdf] appeared in the Springwater News today.

Ruth Byers suggests how our community has dealt with big challenges. This one was the total clear-cutting of the forests in the then-named Vespra Township  and Simcoe County in the late 1800s:

In the early years of the 1900s, the Ontario Government established a tree nursery and began to distribute trees for reforestation. About the same time, E.C. Drury a farmer at Crown Hill and E.J. Zavitz, a forester, began a project to help recover the land denuded of trees. They toured the ‘sand plans’ around Midhurst and Orr Lake.

In a quote from A History of Vespra, they described one of their trips:

‘We walked across the field, and came on a spring of fresh, clean water, bubbling out of a sandy bank. The stream wasn’t very wide, but seemed to have a good strong flow.’

This was the beginning of the Midhurst Tree Nursery. And eventually, Springwater Park.

The devastation of The Great War (WWI) provoked another communal, local response,  logically centred on the tree nursery and park:

Located in Springwater Park is a cenotaph built of stone by Veterans of Vespra Township. Harvey Spence and Robert Mills did the actual construction. Remembrance Day services were held her for many years, including members from Scouting and Guiding.

How will our community respond to the current challenges to our social, environmental and cultural equities?

Originally published on iLoveMidhurst.ca on October 11, 2012.

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