Art or Memorial?: The Forgotten History of Canada's War Art


168 pages
ISBN 1-55238-178-1
DDC 709'.71'0904




Reviewed by Graeme S. Mount

Graeme S. Mount is a professor of history at Laurentian University. He
is the author of Canada’s Enemies: Spies and Spying in the Peaceable
Kingdom, Chile and the Nazis, and The Diplomacy of War: The Case of


Many Canadians who fought in the two world wars had impressive artistic
talent, and some of their paintings—both coloured and black-and-white,
from the gas attack on Ypres to the liberation of the
Netherlands—appear in these pages. Among the artists’ names are
Walter Allward, Alex Colville, A.Y. Jackson, and Jack Nichols. Some
paintings are abstract, others almost like photographs. The originals
are available at the War Museum in Ottawa, where Laura Brandon is
Curator of War Art.

Several pages of text precede the actual paintings. Brandon reviews the
creation of the collection and provides explanations as to why it long
remained relatively unknown. Controversy and indifference were two
significant factors, with French Canadians indicating very little
interest. World War I quickly appeared a tragic mistake, but World War
II was a just war by any standard. During the increasingly nationalistic
interwar period, Canadians came to regard World War I as a British
effort in which Canadians participated. By contrast, an independent
Canada decided for itself to fight in World War II. Canadians could feel
proud of their accomplishments, not simply sorry for those doomed to
take part in someone else’s bloody mess.

Brandon notes that collections such as this one are by no means
universal. Australia’s in Canberra is the world’s largest, but the
British counterpart is merged into a larger operation. Neither the
United States nor Germany—for obvious reasons in the case of the
latter—has one.

Tourists planning to visit Ottawa may gain more from their trip if they
examine this book first. Those who have seen the collection will
undoubtedly appreciate the souvenir. Indeed, as pictures depict the
horrors of war more effectively than can mere words, a wide distribution
would serve the public interest. Hopefully, there can be a sequel with
paintings from Korea, Cyprus, the Middle East, Vietnam, Croatia, Bosnia,
and Afghanistan.


Brandon, Laura., “Art or Memorial?: The Forgotten History of Canada's War Art,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 17, 2024,