Manitoba History: The Darlingford Memorial Park
by Jeffrey Thorsteinson
At first glance, New York City and the town of Darlingford, Manitoba (population 200) do not seem to have much in common. One thing the two communities do share is a history of sacrifice in war. It is estimated that New York State lost over 40,000 citizens in the American Civil War; this was an astonishing toll, the most lost by any state in a calamity which claimed more than 600,000 lives. A half-century later, during the Great War, eighteen Darlingford residents perished in the First World War: a devastating sacrifice for a community so small. Remarkably, the two communities also share memorials honouring this sacrifice by the same architect: Arthur A. Stoughton.
The majority of New York State’s Union troops came from New York City. In the city a combination of anger with conscription, numerous casualties (many new immigrants) and economic ties to the South led to anti-war sentiments and the anti-draft riots of 1863. At the war’s end, however, the city’s veteran soldiers and sailors were greeted as victorious heroes of a noble cause; these men would come to serve as an important demographic and voting-bloc. Plans for a New York Civil War monument began to coalesce in the 1880s. Following a lengthy debate over location, an architectural competition was finally held in the summer of 1897, one of the most publicised such contests in turn-of-the-century America. The prospective monument was intended to grace the corner of Fifty-Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue, the south-east entrance to Central Park, adjacent to the future Plaza Hotel.
Winning the competition was the firm of Stoughton & Stoughton, an office comprised of brothers Charles and Arthur A. Stoughton. An 1888 graduate of Columbia University, Arthur Stoughton was quickly becoming a notable in New York architectural circles. Having studied under William Robert Ware, the founder of the school’s architecture program, he was the winner of Columbia University’s first Fellowship in Architecture. This prize was selected by a jury that included the eminent Richard M. Hunt and Charles F. McKim, whose firm would go on to design Winnipeg’s classical Bank of Montreal at the corner of Portage & Main. The fellowship allowed Stoughton to travel to Paris to attend the famous École des Beaux Arts. Here he won the Prix Jean Leclaire and studied in the atelier of Gaston Redon, architect of the Louvre’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs. In the New York memorial competition Stoughton’s winning design drew on his neo-classical training and featured a pedestal, soaring columnar shaft and a personification of Peace. Shifting tides led to a change in location, to Riverside Park on the city’s west side, and a revised design. The ultimate monument, unveiled by Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, took the form of a massive circular temple of white marble, adorned by sculptures by the Franco-American Paul E. Duboy.
In 1921, it was in a very different locale that Stoughton completed his second war monument. Darlingford’s memorial was the vision of local farmer Ferris Bolton, who had lost three sons in the Great War during a harrowing three months in 1917: Wilbert (23), Elmer (19) and Harold (21). By this time, Stoughton was in Winnipeg, serving as the first head of the University of Manitoba’s School of Architecture, which celebrated its centenary in 2013. In contrast to the neo-classical New York monument, Stoughton’s design for Darlingford’s memorial resembles a compact, brick, Gothic-revival chapel. Patterned masonry, a steeply pitched roof and projecting buttresses are the building’s defining features; a central curved doorway leads to two black marble tablets that bear the names of the fallen. The small building possesses a sense of solemnity, its Gothic design calling to mind Empire but also church-like, an appropriately sacred allusion. Its quiet dignity is enhanced by a sizable lawn and flower garden, designed and landscaped by staff at the Morden Experimental Farm and maintained for many years by Dr. W. R. Leslie, Farm superintendent. Named a Manitoba Heritage Site in 1991, the monument remains the only free-standing building in the province dedicated solely to honouring the war dead; it also displays panels commemorating those lost in the Second World War.
The Darlingford Memorial was not the only Great War monument that Stoughton completed. In Winnipeg, the war—which cast a shadow over Stoughton’s early years at the School of Architecture—was to be commemorated by a new Maryland Street Bridge. Announced in 1915, when a further three years of war was an unimaginable scenario, it was to possess a Renaissance character with prominent decorated lamps and pylons adorning it in pairs. Unbuilt, it was one of three Assiniboine spans designed by Stoughton at this time. An Arlington bridge “devoted to representing the Dominion” styled in a modern spirit and a Gothic-revival Main Street bridge devoted to Empire likewise went unconstructed. Stoughton was eventually to execute a far simpler design for the Main-Norwood bridges in the 1930s. Another Winnipeg war monument by Stoughton was completed, however: a modest but intricate Gothic-revival plaque at Augustine United Church, unveiled in October of 1920. Seven years later Stoughton would also design the base for a war memorial in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
The Great War was a stunning tragedy which ravaged families and communities world-wide. The out-pouring of grief and desolation it incurred was honoured globally in a variety of forms, notably in the re-popularisation of the cenotaph form by British architect Edward Lutyens. (Winnipeg’s cenotaph bears its own curious history: the original competition for its design won by a German-Canadian, his victory revoked, his wife’s design selected, her victory also revoked, with the ultimate design executed by provincial architect Gilbert Parfitt in 1928.) Set against the adjacent prairie, the Darlingford memorial—stately, modest and quiet—is one of these many commemorations, but possesses its own remarkable effect. As with the New York monument, its quality is one of silence and peace: a contrast to the violent events to which it bears testimony. A symbolic cluster of poppies anchors its carefully tended garden. The monument stands across from the former town school, now a museum, serving as a reminder to future generations of past sacrifice.
We thank Clara Bachmann for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.
We thank S. Goldsborough for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.
Page revised: 2 April 2020