OPINION: Tom Slater’s legacy: 26 names added to city Cenotaph

Tom Slater holds a copy of the The City of Sarnia War Remembrance Project at the cenotaph in Veterans’ Park. 2014 file photo

Five years ago, retired high school teacher Tom Slater joined the ranks of Sarnia’s pre-eminent historians, joining Charlotte Vidal Nisbet, Norman Gurd, George Smith and others whose work has enriched our knowledge of the community’s past.

He did so with the “completion” of his brilliant War Remembrance Project. Three years in the researching and writing, the WRP is the definitive history of Sarnia’s fallen soldiers, seamen and airmen.

Those of us who know and treasure Tom Slater as Sarnia’s top military historian smile at the notion of the WRP being “completed.”

The fact is he has never stopped adding to it over the past five years. People would find family members in the WRP and send him photos or additional details about the lives of those in the record. For Slater, it has been a labour of love and a never-ending project.

As a result of his effort, and with the support of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 62, Imperial Sarnia, Bluewater Power and the Sarnia Historical Society, the names of 26 more men were added to the Sarnia Cenotaph War Memorial this fall.

The federal government also provided educational funding related to the project.

Tom Slater’s research over the past eight years has vastly increased our knowledge of Sarnians who made the supreme sacrifice while serving in Canada’s military. Following the First World War, many who lost family or friends buried in France, Belgium and elsewhere needed a place to mourn them. Cenotaphs were erected in towns, cities and villages across the nation.

“No official government body or military agency was in charge of recording the names of the fallen,” Slater said. “Across the country, these kinds of lists were assembled by word of mouth rather than through official documents.”

Naturally, some of the fallen had no roots or family in their communities, so errors and omissions were made during the years these memorial cenotaphs were erected.

Thanks to Slater and the War Remembrance Project some of those omissions are finally being corrected in this city.

The Sarnia Cenotaph Memorial was officially unveiled in Veterans Park (then known as Victoria Park) on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 7, 1921. The familiar statue of the soldier standing atop the cenotaph was added later.

To this day, Slater continues to chronicle, and thus honour, the Sarnians who died in defence of our country, and for that we owe him a debt of gratitude.