Reston Memorial Park celebrates 100 years

·3 min read

Soldiers who fought in the First World War were honoured at the Reston Memorial Park recently as part of a centennial celebration.

Members of the park’s board welcomed the community to a dedication of a plaque marking its centennial year on July 6. The Centennial Reading Nook was also unveiled at the event. With funding from the Reston Area Foundation, Enbridge Fueling Future, the Virden and Area Foundation and the Souris River Watershed District, a platform with mini-benches was erected to encourage reading together and facilitate outdoor classroom space for school groups, daycares and visitors.

Board member Sharon Simms said that back in the winter of 1921, the community, led by local businessman, tailor and veteran Alfred Archer, decided to place a cenotaph as the centrepiece of a new memorial park in Reston, located 107 kilometres southwest of Brandon. An empty spot was chosen on the east end of First Avenue, running parallel to the railway. Soon, an Italian marble-carved statue of a soldier was purchased at a cost of approximately $3,600, funded by citizen donations.

The cenotaph, one of 100 of its kind that can be found in Canada, was unveiled by Manitoba’s lieutenant-governor, Sir James Aikins, on June 30, 1922. It included the names of 23 soldiers from the First World War and 17 from the Second World War. A total of 143 residents enlisted in the First World War and 412 in the Second World War. Trees, flowers, benches and birdhouses were added to beautify the spot.

The park has grown and flourished since then, tended to by employees of the Rural Municipality of Pipestone, the local urban district of Reston and volunteers. In recent years, new cement pathways, playground and exercise equipment and a grass volleyball court were added to the site.

Simms said she hopes people will come by the park and read the names of the soldiers who gave their lives in both world wars and those who served their community.

The day after the plaque’s dedication, Simms was pleasantly surprised to see that the poppies that had been planted around the cenotaph were in bloom. She said she likes to think it’s the soldiers thanking the community for caring about them all these years later.

“They’d never bloomed before … I think it could be a coincidence, but it was just amazing.”

More than 75 people came to the unveiling of the new plaque and to take part in games organized by Seniors Helping Hands, while Tanya Martin and Pat Ross provided musical entertainment. More than seven dozen strawberry shortcakes were served during intermission, in homage to the strawberry social fundraisers that were popular in the war years.

Dean Brooker, chair of the park board, said the park’s improvement over the last 10 years is wonderful to see.

In 2012, the committee put plans in motion for the centennial celebration, including hiring an arbourist to assess the health of the trees.Over the next year, a planter was constructed and new signs were erected, and in 2014, new playground equipment was installed, along with solar lights and an automatic sprinkler system.

The tennis court was refinished in 2015, the same year electric lighting was installed at the park. In 2016, benches were added to the park’s walkways along with a little library.

In 2017, the centre flower bed planter was added and the cenotaph was cleaned and painted. The following year, new garbage receptacles were purchased and 20 trees were planted on the south and east perimeter of the park.

In 2019, 60 more trees were planted on the north and west side of the park with assistance from a grant from Manitoba Hydro.

Brooker said at the event that he hopes families will visit the Reston Memorial Park and see all it has to offer this summer.

“Take a stroll past to read those names on the cenotaph who gave their lives in both world wars, and remember many more who served our community and country so proudly.”

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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