Story of a statue
A statue of a lone soldier stands in front of the BMO branch at the corner of Portage and Main in Winnipeg, Manitoba. At nearly three metres tall, the imposing bronze man serves as a monument to the employees of the Bank of Montreal who fought and died in the First World War. 1,409 of the bank’s employees served in World War I, and 230 never returned. Of these men, 53 were from Winnipeg – nine of whom were killed in action.
To commemorate the service of these employees, the bank held an international design competition for both this memorial, and another to be placed at the bank’s Montreal headquarters. The celebrated American sculptor James Earl Fraser won the commission for the Winnipeg statue, and the model chosen was a Bank of Montreal employee, Wynn Bagnall.
Bagnall was born in 1890 in Northumberland, England before moving to Canada and becoming an employee of the Bank of Montreal in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. His service record tells us that he enlisted as a gunner in the Canadian Field Artillery in Sydney, Nova Scotia on August 15, 1914, just over two weeks after the War broke out. By 1916, he had earned his commission as lieutenant, and in March of 1918 his admirable conduct had seen him rise to the rank of captain. During the Battle of Cambrai in 1918, Bagnall earned the Military Cross for bravery, after his quick thinking led him to order an artillery piece from his battery to flank an enemy position, saving fellow Canadian soldiers from heavy machine gun fire.
After the war, Captain Bagnall returned to his job at BMO. He later immigrated to the United States, where he served as Fraser’s model for the BMO memorial, which was unveiled in 1923. Bagnall remained in the United States for the rest of his life, and passed away in 1931. But his likeness – and his legacy – lives on in the statue at Portage and Main.