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


What did the circa 1929 Vespra Boys cenotaph look like when the Department of Defence agreed to list it as a registered war memorial?

October 14, 2013

Defence has a National Inventory of Canadian Military Memorials (NICMM) which has now 6,664 Canadian memorials recorded.

Major John R. Fisher did the survey, registered it and took these pictures (click here to go to the pictures).







The Springwater Park cairn is listed as Memorial 35078-012 (click here to go to the NICMM listing itself).

Maj Fisher1

For over 50 years, this cairn was the centre piece of the unfortunately now inactive Vespra Legion 149. Barrie Legion 147 has kept faith by keeping the the 149’s colours safe, sound and unaltered since 1976.

Canadian Legion Branch: 'Vespra 149'

The Vespra Legion 149 flag flew for the first time in +30 years last Remembrance Day.


The Vespra Boys cenotaph at Springwater Park: The meaning within the stone.

June 6, 2013

We’re just beginning to understand the significance of this Department of Defence, Wilfred Owen-inspired very rare nationally-registered memorial.

See: Memorial Number: 35078-012.

Memorial RPPC B&W 3 swans

The memorial is much more than just a crucifix-topped, local stone, seven foot tall structure with two marble plaques (Latin and Bible verses), a perpetually-running water fountain with a child step, goldfish-filled pond: a lovingly landscaped tribute to the fallen and returning Vespra veterans which was intentionally sited at the very entrance to the park.

The memorial is all this, yes, but it is not defined by cold mortar, granite and marble. It is the geography, thought behind it and a system of meaning that it represents to those that care. It’s about the community, friends and particularly the families of those 18 men.

Memorial B&W History of Vespra 1959

Another image from A History of Vespra Township, 1987, p. 156.

Memorial RPPC B&W Midland

Another view.

Memorial Colour

The top two RPPCs (real photographic postcards) are important historical references. The colorized versions tend to be less accurate historically. Note how the electrical light pole behind the cairn has been left out of the drawn image.


What the site looked like last November 11th before the ceremony. The “colours” (charter flag) is of the Vespra Legion Branch 149 (a small part of that story).


Master of Ceremonies Wayne Cameron put it all together. Adam’s exceptional YouTube response and a post summing up what the young think. Mr. Doug Ransom who is retired CDN who served in the Viet Nam war as a Marine Corps photographer captured the ceremony on a slideshow.

Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen, 1893 – 1918, English poet and soldier, Dulce Et Decorum Est poem

Springwater Provincial Park a real sanctuary

January 25, 2013

For human and animal body and soul.

Wanzel chickadee

A black-capped chickadee lands on the fence of one of the animal enclosures at Springwater Provincial Park. The future of several animals at the park will lie with the province as they decide the long-term direction of Springwater Provincial Park, north of Barrie. (Mark Wanzel Photo)

A shout out to all the Moms in a great Barrie Examiner letter of the day from Christine Shirota, Springwater Provincial Park a real sanctuary:

This park has a habit of worming itself into you.

After we arrived, we visited the animals (baby skunks), played at the playground and met another family who had been visiting this park for generations.

It was one of those days that defines childhood. It was amazing.

What are we doing, allowing the government to change the designation of Springwater Park to non-operational?

Christine is convinced the park could be turned around.

It should remain operational and increase its functionality. Why? Because this park houses the Vespra Boys cenotaph.

The Midhurst Secondary Plan has already facilitated the loss of 756 hectares, a loss of prime farmland that approaches that of the megaquarry.

This park is situated very close to Barrie and with active promotion could easily attract visitors for school trips, from the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts, from families in the area, and from out-of-town tourists.

The animals make the park distinct and facilitate learning. Lastly, this park has ecological, biological, environmental and historical value that doesn’t seem to be recognized . . . not to mention the major boost to the quality of life it gives families in this area.

A request for assistance:

The closing is scheduled for March 31, so I guess this mother just needs to put it out there.

I really need your help on this one.

The ‘Vespra 149’ Canadian Legion charter colours flew for the 1st time in 38 years this Remembrance Day

December 1, 2012

A reminder post from Dec 2012.

Vespra Branch 149, (1929 – 1974)

Canadian Legion Branch: 'Vespra 149'

Canadian Legion of the British Empire Services League: ‘Vespra 149’

Special thanks to Royal Canadian Legion Branch, Barrie 147 for the 38 year-long  preservation of the ‘Vespra 149’ charter colours.

Especially to Barrie 147 President Lloyd George for loaning them to us for the weekend.

In Canada, several veterans organizations emerged during WWI. The Great War Veterans Association, founded in 1917, was the first national organization for veterans, and by 1919 it was the largest veterans organization in Canada. Following WWI, 15 different organizations existed to aid returning veterans in Canada. Field Marshal Earl Haig, founder of the British Empire Service League (now known as the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League), visited Canada in 1925 and urged the organizations to merge. In the same year, the Dominion Veterans Alliance was created to unite these organizations. In November of 1925, the Canadian Legion was founded in Winnipeg, Manitoba, as The Canadian Legion of the British Empire Services League. The Canadian Legion of the British Empire Services League was incorporated by a special act of parliament the following year. The Legion grew steadily through the 1930s and then expanded rapidly following WWII. In 1960, Queen Elizabeth II granted the Legion royal patronage and it became the Royal Canadian Legion. Source

SONY DSCWayne Cameron, master of ceremony

Lest we Forget: after 94 years, 3 wreathes stand at the Vespra Boys cenotaph

November 19, 2012

Canada was forged in the mud and filth of The Great War.

Paid for by families and communities just like these 18 township men.

To their currently serving  brothers and sisters, OPP officers, EMS flag bearers, Canadian Peacekeepers, Royal Canadian Legion Branches 147,  149 and 262, children, family and friends and to those who laid a wreath, thank you.

Wreath presenters:

  • the Province of Ontario (MNR, park staff),
  • 2 citizens`groups, and
  • the Youth.

A resurrection in a cathedral of pines.

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.

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