Walter Seymour Allward was born in Toronto on 18 November 1876. He is best known for his work designing and sculpting the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.
While a teenager studying at Central Technical School in Toronto, he trained as a carpenter under his father, and eventually began an apprenticeship at the architectural firm Gibson and Simpson. At age nineteen, Allward started working at the Don Valley Brick Works, sculpting with terracotta.
Allward’s early work focused on war memorials. His first commission was a monument to the North-West Rebellion, and other commissions followed for memorials to the War of 1812 and the South African War. He also worked on busts of Canadian historical personalities, including John Graves Simcoe and William Lyon Mackenzie. Other famous works by Allward include the Bell Telephone Memorial in Brantford, and the South African War Memorial in Toronto.
After drafting 150 design sketches, Allward submitted his proposal for the monument to the fallen Canadians of the Great War to the design competition run by the Canadian Battlefields Memorials Commission. In 1921, his design was selected from among 160 submissions, and shortly thereafter it was decided by the Commission that his design would be built at Vimy Ridge. Allward set up a studio in London in 1922, which he used as a base while he travelled Europe in search of a suitable material for the monument. He eventually selected Seget limestone, the same stone that was used to build Diocletian’s Palace in what is now Croatia.
With the stone chosen, Allward returned to London, where he created life-sized plaster models. The models were then sent to Vimy, where they were copied in the limestone by the professional carvers working at the site. Allward visited Vimy multiple times over the following years to oversee construction. The building process of the monument took much longer than expected due to the prolonged search for the perfect stone, the transportation of that stone from to Northern France, the necessity of creating a massive concrete and steel base, and the complexity of the design. Finally, fifteen years after work on the monument began, it was officially unveiled on 26 July 1936 by King Edward VIII.
Prior to his work on the Vimy Monument, Allward was widely recognized as a master sculptor across Canada. In 1900, he was elected to the Ontario Society of Artists, and he joined the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts three years later. The year his monument at Vimy was unveiled, Allward became an Honourary Fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, and in 1938 his work on the Vimy Memorial was recognized in a Parliamentary session by Prime Minister Mackenzie King. He was made a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1944.
Allward also appears as a character in the novel “The Stone Carvers” by Canadian author Jane Urquhart.
Walter Seymour Allward died in Toronto on 24 April 1955, aged 78.