Women’s Monuments

Statues of three women war volunteers unveiled on Halifax waterfront

The Halifax Women’s History Society marks contributions to the war effort on the home front

Artist Marlene Hilton Moore with one of three statues she sculpted showing women helping with the war effort.   Michelle Cuthbert

Elizabeth Lambie was nine years old at the beginning of the Second World War. She remembers standing in her fourth grade classroom, cheering as trucks of soldiers rolled past. Lambie did her part for the war effort by collecting scrap metal for munitions, compiling parcels of food for soldiers and knitting for the Red Cross.

“I think I worked on a scarf for a few months,” she said Thursday. “I wasn’t very good, but I had to bring it in and show that I had contributed.”

On Thursday, Lambie watched as three monuments were unveiled to honour women who aided the war effort at home. The statues were fundraised for by the Halifax Women’s History Society (HWHS) and installed permanently just north of the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market. They depict an elderly woman knitting, an African-Nova Scotian woman serving food and a young girl collecting scrap metal in a wagon.

“It’s very nice to be remembered, that you did contribute,” said Lambie.

The Volunteers are cast in bronze and set on Nova Scotia granite bases.   Michelle Cuthbert

The sculptures, called The Volunteers, were created by Marlene Hilton Moore, who was chosen through a national competition put on by HWHS. They are life-size renderings made of clay and cast in bronze that stand on Nova Scotia granite bases. Hilton Moore said she was inspired by the project because so few public art projects she has worked on have depicted women.

“It’s always been predominantly men, so it was thrilling to be able to just focus on women,” she said.

Joyce Purchase was one of three volunteers who were asked to unveil the statues. Purchase worked at a canteen in the North End during the Second World War serving soldiers and also collected items to salvage for munitions.

When Purchase unveiled the statue of the little girl, she gasped, saying “she’s real.”

Joyce Purchase (in black) unveiled the statue of the young girl. The girl is collecting scrap metal, like Purchase did in her childhood.   Michelle Cuthbert

She was joined in the unveiling by Charlotte Guy Jeffries, a musician who played for soldiers both on the home front and in Europe, and Margaret Gordon, who was a server and singer at Gerrish Street Hall.

Halifax has more than 250 public art installations. However, not many of them feature real women and none depict women from the World Wars. Mary Somers, a spokesperson for HWHS, said the society wanted to dedicate a monument to real women, rather than mythical creatures who are usually found in Halifax public art.

“There’s nymphs and fairies, and there’s the ones in the public gardens, but they’re all from mythology,” said Somers. “There’s not a single woman.”

A Mi’kmaq basket created by Margaret Pelletier sits on the lap of the knitting woman.   Michelle Cuthbert

It was also important to HWHS that the figures came from a diverse background. Wanda Lewis, a board member of HWHS, said they wanted the statues to reflect back on all women, regardless of age or background.

“Everybody calls me and says, ‘who are the statues; who is this woman?’” said Lewis. “And I say she’s you, she’s me, she’s your mother, she’s your grandmother. She’s all of us.”