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Wednesday, September 28, 2022
Letter: Grandfather designed NOTL’s clock tower cenotaph

Dear editor:

My attention was caught by your front page feature of June 2, “The Monuments Men” and especially by mention in Exploring Photos of the architect of the memorial clock tower, “Charles Wilmot, (sic) of Toronto.”

Charles Mackay Willmot (properly, with two L’s) was my paternal grandfather.

He was known to his 10 grandchildren as Mumps. A booklet produced by the North Toronto Historical Society in 1985 said he was an architect of note, who studied under his father, Mansell Willmot, and designed some of Toronto’s finest homes.

His family, which included a butcher, a druggist and a clerk, for a time owned the four corners of Bloor and Yonge in Toronto.

Mumps did not serve overseas, but his brother, Scott, did.

In 1915, when Scott was 18, he wrote to his brother from the trenches in France during the First World War.

He described one battle where only 190 survived out of 1,000. “It was awful, Charlie, men and horses were strewn everywhere.”

After the war Scott returned home with a Parisian bride. He later died by suicide.

My father, youngest child of Charles Willmot, served in the Second World  War.

He would not talk of the war to us children, but I sometimes overheard him tell my mother about a Mrs. Fairbourn, who lived in the countryside, and opened her home to young soldiers who were on leave.

We do not often hear of the kindness of these distant hosts. Perhaps the humanity and basic decency shown did much to preserve the mental health of soldiers far from loved ones and home.

I had not known that my grandfather based his design of NOTL’s iconic clock tower cenotaph on the St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice.

When I look it up on the internet, I see the similarities. The campanile served as a landmark to guide Venetian ships into harbour.

Perhaps our memorial tower, in addition to honouring those lost in war, serves a secondary purpose, guiding tourists into our town.

I wonder how my grandfather knew about the tower in Italy before the age of the internet, but I know how he knew about those lost to war and that they must be remembered.

Win Willmot Laar