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Cenotaph a memorial to Phoenix

A war memorial sitting beside a mountain road marks the site the once bustling City of Phoenix in southern BC.

Greg Nesteroff

Special to the Boundary Creek Times


One of the few remaining signs of the ghost town of Phoenix is its cenotaph, dedicated to 15 soldiers claimed in the First World War and borne out of another unrelated tragedy.

Charles M. Campbell wrote in the Boundary Historical Society’s third annual report that 46 Phoenix men employed by the Granby mining company volunteered for overseas service before 1917, of whom eight were killed in action, one died of his injuries, one lost an arm, another a leg, 20 more were otherwise wounded, two were taken prisoner, and three were invalided home.

Of the remaining 12, four joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps and were uninjured, three were not heard from again, and the other five came through safely, including one who was decorated with the Military Medal. Another who was wounded twice won the Distinguished Conduct Medal, was made lieutenant, and later won the Military Cross. (Campbell didn’t name any of these men.)

Among 15 later enlistments, one man was killed and two wounded.

When the war ended, the city began considering a memorial to its fallen sons. But before anything was decided, the Granby company pulled out of Phoenix, spelling doom for the town. Many buildings were sold for salvage, including the city’s skating and curling rink.

The Phoenix Rink Company, which owned the arena, met with stockholders and decided proceeds from the sale would be put toward a war memorial that would outlast the town. That much of the story is fairly well known. But this part isn’t: the rink’s demolition claimed a boy’s life.

Frank McDonald of Phoenix bought the lumber while a Vancouver company bought the corrugated iron. Once the latter was removed, Mc- Donald sold the frame structure to a couple of Kelowna teachers, Walter Middleton and W.C. Mitchell.

They were in the process of pulling the building down on Sept. 1, 1920 when it collapsed, instantly killing seven-year-old Jackie Mattocks and two horses. Middleton escaped unharmed but Mitchell broke his leg and another man, Fred Patterson, suffered a slight shoulder injury.

Why the building fell is unclear. But the demolition crew had a hard time keeping children out of it, and shooed away two little girls only moments before the catastrophe. Making Jackie’s death all the more tragic, his family planned to move to Grand Forks the next day, where he was to begin school. Instead, he was buried in its cemetery.

The rink’s sale raised $1,200, enough to pay for the war monument, with $400 left over to donate to the Royal Canadian Legion in Grand Forks to ensure its care.

In October 1920, the monument was erected by Patterson, Chandler, and Stephen Ltd. of Vancouver, a firm that also built the cenotaph in Merritt.

It stood 8 ½ feet high, weighed 4 ½ tons, and was mounted on a rock outcropping adjoining the former Phoenix CPR depot, which was about the highest point in the city — elevation 4,700 feet on the divide between Twin Creek and Fourth of July Creek. It was then also along the main highway between Grand Forks and Greenwood.

The front inscription includes a line from the Roman poet Horace’s Odes: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, which roughly translates as “It is sweet and right to die for your country.”

Beneath it is inscribed: “To the glory of God this monument is erected in honor of the Phoenix men who paid the supreme sacrifice in the Great War 1914-1918.”

The opposite side lists the men who gave their lives: James Cochrane, Joseph Fleming, Elmo R. Geddes, Oscar Gustafson, Sidney Jennings, Anton Johnson, James C. Kempston, John Lindsay, Roy A. MacDonald, Dudley MacMillan, Thomas Monahan, John A. Parry, D.M. Pittendrigh, James Pitpladdy, and Fred Wilkinson.

In 1956, when the Granby company resumed mining at Phoenix, the cenotaph was moved a short distance to its present location. Today it’s still the site of a small Remembrance Day service.

Charles Campbell, who lived and worked there for 16 years, commented: “This is the only stone structure ever erected in Phoenix and long after all the buildings have rotted away, the waste dumps and glory holes have been hidden by new forest growth, and the deer have returned to their former haunts, this shaft will remain as a memorial not only to the men who gave up their lives in Flanders but also to the place they came from.”