The original Leaside Gardens was completed in 1951 just six short years after the end of World War II. All across Ontario and Canada, it was common to see hockey and skating rinks erected at this time. After all, we needed recreation facilities for the Baby Boomers born right after war’s end.
Leaside was no different. By 1963 the local service clubs looked for a way to honour and memorialize the sacrifices made by Leaside servicemen during the war. The then new arena and facilities were dedicated to the memory of 17 servicemen from Leaside who made the ultimate sacrifice during WWII. An impressive stainless-steel plaque featured the 17 names inscribed on it and the facility was named The Leaside Memorial Community Gardens in their honour. The plaque was affixed to the wall in the original lobby area of the William Lea room, past the main entrance and onto the viewing area of the facility as we now know it. The average age of those 17 men was just 22 years.
When the new facility construction meant the removal of the plaque and reconfiguration of the William Lea room, the board knew immediately that when construction was finished the entire new facility incorporating the original would need to be rededicated.
The original plaque was carefully removed and tucked away for safekeeping and refurbishing while awaiting rededication. During that time a remarkable opportunity presented itself. In 1963, when the memorial plaque was struck, the name of Walter Newel was unfortunately misspelled and remained so for 50 years. At last this could be corrected.
On November 8, 2013, 50 years after the original dedication and on the 100th anniversary of the Town of Leaside the Leaside Gardens board rededicated the beautiful new combined facility. In attendance were several family members of three of the men for whom this memorial is named: the Lazier, Newel and Wilbur families. It was my distinct honour and privilege to hold the Silver Cross presented to Flying Officer Walter Newel’s mother, Lillian, on that day.
The plaque has now been relocated to the most easterly perimeter wall near the flag stands. There you will find the names of the brave and selfless Leasiders.
This year we are in the process of working with Veterans Affairs Canada to have the Leaside Memorial Community Gardens added to the National Inventory of Canadian Military Memorials, housed on a website repository of memorials and monuments located in communities across Canada. Currently there are more than 7,500 memorials included in the inventory. The board is also considering establishing a Remembrance Day observance at the rink.
We certainly hope that on your next visit you will pause for a moment to read the names and give thanks.
Ray White is Vice Chair, Leaside Memorial Community Gardens Board of Management.