Finding Patriotism in Kortrijk, Belgium

Some of my first and most precious memories as a child were spent in Bowring Park. For those of you who don’t know, Bowring Park is a park located in St. John’s Newfoundland, Canada. My home sweet home.

In 1911 the land of the park was purchased and donated to the city by Sir Edgar Rennie Bowring on behalf of Bowring Brothers Ltd. It was officially opened as a park on July 15th, 1914. Since that time the park has served as a favorite family spot and a historic reminder of many of Newfoundland’s war efforts and struggles.

My father grew up along the bank of the park so as a child I frequented it often as it was so close to my grandparent’s house and also my school. I remember ogling over the giant trees and hidden pathways, the flowers and playgrounds, the duck ponds and fountains, statues of peter pan dancing and graceful white swans. It was and still is a magical place.

Caribou Monument, St. John’s, Newfoundland

Despite all, it’s treasures no trip to the park was complete without visiting its crowning jewel,  the mighty, watchful and proud caribou.

Although it was not until I was much older that I understood its true significance,  I did know from my father’s explanations that the caribou was a noble symbol of Newfoundland and something he was very proud of and in turn so was I.

That was all I ever needed to know.

Until I began planning my trip to Belgium. Slowly the true story and history of this park monument unraveled itself before me.

I learned that this caribou had brothers. Brothers and a twin all located in Europe.

During WWI Newfoundland was an independent country, a small Brittish colony that showed huge support during the war effort, and like many countries paid a high price.

On the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, the Newfoundland soldiers (The Royal Newfoundland Regiment aka The Blue Puttees) endured the biggest tragedy in our history when they went into action 753 strong and only 68 answered the roll call the next day. Hundreds of young Newfoundland men lost in a manner on moments.

Growing up, the battle of Beaumont Hamel was often described as the greatest act of bravery and tragedy in our province’s history, or at the very least a focal point of our comradery as a united people.

While planning our trip to Belgium it was this history that was uncovered along with many other lost to me facts and truths.

After the war ended, Reverend Thomas Nangle who was a Newfoundland cleric, military chaplain of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment during World War I,  began work on erecting a memorial for those brave men of Newfoundland lost. It was his dream and hard work along with others that brought about the construction of 5 caribou monuments. The Government of Newfoundland acquired the land on which to build the memorials from grateful France and Belgium. Making Newfoundland the only Brittish colony to purchase and preserve one of its battle sites in its original condition – Beaumont-Hamel.

Each caribou was built overlooking the enemy line and all situated near or in a place where there was a significant battle involving the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

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Back to my own journey…

My boyfriend and I decided that it was important for us to visit at least one caribou while in Europe. So we decided on visiting the Kortrijk monument, a little over a half an hour away from the city of Ghent where we were staying.

Our trip was a deeply gratifying one that brought us more than just sightseeing and Belgium beer. We traveled through Dutch, Canadian and Newfoundland history. We visited the Flanders museum in Ypres and the St. Julien Canadian Memorial situated there. We were touched by stories, images and the discovery of a profound connection that our own families had to this now beautiful and peaceful country.

On a Sunday evening after a few days of exploring  Belgium, we decided to set out in search for the mighty Belgium caribou. When we arrived in the town of Kortrijk we were met by a lively atmosphere of live music and clusters of people gathered in the streets. It seemed there was a festival underway. Circling through crowds, medieval buildings, and ancient cobbled streets we quickly became… lost.

Then, the heavens opened up and the rain began to fall. What could we expect? We were in Belgium after all.

Wet, lost and losing daylight I became disheartened. Would we ever meet the Belgium caribou?

It was at a moment of pure frustration that a couple walking with their baby spotted us and must have overheard our dilemma. They kindly pointed us on the right path. We walked for what seemed like close to an hour. A map and maybe some internet would have come in handy at that moment. My good mood was fading and my jeans were successfully soaked.

We began discussing a revisit or taking another route. It was during that time that we stopped alongside a busy road so that my boyfriend could use a gas station restroom. As I waited outside in the rain something caught my eye across the street. Two bronze objects were protruding through the tall trees.

Antlers? I began to laugh to myself.

We had found him.


I will never forget the feeling I had as we approached it. I don’t know if it was the anticipation, the relive or the comfort of home but as we walked towards the mighty brother of my childhood friend I felt something I had only felt a few times before in my life, and never quite like this.

True patriotism.

Nestled between huge trees was the towering caribou, guarding Belgium against our long departed enemy.

It was beautiful.

We stayed for a long time until it was almost dark. Tucked beneath the dry shade of the trees and seated on a ledge behind the caribou we listened to the sound of the nesting jackdaws screeching and calling from above us.

We talked about the impact of this moment and what it meant to us. Talked about how funny it was that we almost missed it. About the men who were buried in unmarked graves close to where we sat freely. We sang old Newfoundland Irish songs (terribly I may add) and the ode to Newfoundland.

I could have stayed there for hours. It felt for a little while like I was back at home in some strange way.

When we decided to leave I felt regretful that I had not brought flowers to leave behind. All I had was my camera, a few euros and my baggage lock and key tinkling in my pocket.

My boyfriend had a photo of his grandfather who fought in the second world war near where we stood. He decided to leave it behind with the guardian caribou.

I determined that all I had to leave was the lock and key. I took the lock and buried it beneath the majestic caribou.

Back home in Newfoundland I buried the key at the feet of the caribou in Bowring Park. My own personal gesture linking the past and present, Europe and Newfoundland, the dead and alive. My own secret to remember, the smallest most insignificant thing I could do.

St. John’s, Newfoundland & Kortrijk, Belgium 2017

I can’t tell you how much this visit has changed my view on my province, my history, and my freedoms. But I can say this…

This remembrance day please do not forget.

Visit the monuments in your hometowns and pursue their stories, uncover their secrets, and pay your respects.

It has been 100 years since the battle of Beaumont Hamel and it is more important than ever to remember what our grandfathers and grandmothers endured. And respect the freedoms they fought for. Time heals all but as time slips by so does our memories. Please do not let their suffering and bravery be forgotten.

Today I remember. Lest we forget.

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  1. live_a_life_less_ordinary | 11th Nov 16


  2. Kindly Unspoken | 11th Nov 16

    This is such an interesting story, and I definitely agree it’s important to pay your respects!

  3. randyjw | 12th Nov 16

    What an incredible article. You did a great job! I love your having left the lock in one place and the key in the other!

    • StephJ | 12th Nov 16

      Thank you! It was quiet the experience.

  4. usathroughoureyes | 12th Nov 16

    very enlightening. I liked it.

  5. kaybe610 | 13th Nov 16

    so interesting! I hope you liked your time in Belgium… despite of the weather!!!

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  7. Elizabeth | 30th Nov 16

    Thank you for sharing the history and your experience. Having lost a brother in combat I know how much it means to the families of the fallen that people remember. Those men died a long time ago but as long as there are people alive on earth we must never forget their sacrifice.
    The lock and the key made me instantly think of the “key to my heart” things. The men are safely locked in your heart and now, because of your story, in mine. Thank you.

    • StephJ | 1st Dec 16

      Thank you so much for your sweet comment. It was truly a touching moment for me. I feel like more people should get in touch with those memories as war affects us all, we shouldnt become numb to the harsh realities of it all. I am so very sorry to hear about your brother, I will forever be grateful for what he fought for. Thank you. xo

  8. thechickengrandma | 11th Dec 16

    Loved this! I have always loved history. In my family, history both family and country are very important. I have cousins and nephews who are in the military so the legacy continues in our family.
    Thank you for sharing!

    • StephJ | 11th Dec 16

      I am glad you liked it. It was a trip that meant a lot to me.

  9. 16 Reasons to Travel Belgium | 9th May 17

    […] Being Canadian I was eager to pay my respects to the countless memorials for Newfoundland and Canada that are in Belgium. The Flanders Museum in Ypres does an amazing job at showing the war in an honest and educational way and its effects on all countries that fought, especially the damages that WWI had in the Flanders area, which is still evident today. This was an amazing experience for me, and one I will not ever forget. Check out my heart filled post about my visit to one of those memorials here. […]

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  21. Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle | 10th Nov 17

    This is an amazing read. I’ve always been fascinated by historical travel. Whenever I go to a new place, I always look for the places that will allow me to experience the history of the area. Very cool!

    • stephaniewp | 10th Nov 17

      Thank you! It was a beautiful memory from our trip for sure!

  22. peachthetherapypig | 10th Nov 17

    Very beautiful tribute. It’s amazing how many places we maybe even pass on a daily basis and don’t take the time to pause and learn more about the statues and monuments. They are there because they are important!

    • stephaniewp | 11th Nov 17

      It is so true! I hope that writing this post has inspired others to stop and take a moment at these special places. Thank you for reading 🙂

  23. Carol Cassara | 11th Nov 17

    The deep history is what will draw you to it and the view is what will help you through the journey. I’m glad you pushed through and found it. I’m sure it felt rewarding and refreshing!

  24. Liz Mays | 11th Nov 17

    It’s awesome that this place had such an impact on you. Leaving the lock and key behind was a nice little way to remember your experience!

  25. Ritu | 11th Nov 17

    Isn’t it wonderful to find these links and their historical importance!

  26. You Can Always Start Now | 11th Nov 17

    WOW you made me cry first thing this morning. All the history we don’t know makes me sad. I did a Juno beach tour on Remembrance Day years ago and felt in awe as we walked the beach and area. Thank you for sharing especially today.

    • stephaniewp | 11th Nov 17

      Thank you! I feel all it takes is one story to touch your heart in that personal special way and you will forever remember and respect our shared history of pain and war.

  27. angelanoelauthor | 11th Nov 17

    I appreciate how much time you spent thinking about the what all this means. Too often, I breeze by monuments without thinking about all the reasons why the monument exists in the first place–to remember. This is a beautiful story about linking the past and the present together. Your perseverance in seeking the Belgian Caribou, and spending the moments you did to remember, inspires me.

    • stephaniewp | 11th Nov 17

      Thank you Angela! I often do that same, look at a monument and think for a moment about the meaning of it but it never really digs beneath the surface. Exploring the depths of one monument and linking it to its story in such a personal way was the most powerful thing I could have done and the first time I have done so. I have such a greater respect for this monument and the people it is for since letting this into my heart. Very powerful!

  28. Mimi Green | 11th Nov 17

    Be still my heart, this was really sweet. My loved ones that are no longer here are forever etched in my heart. It is important to carry on their legacy and to teach my kids about those they never had a chance to know.

    • stephaniewp | 11th Nov 17

      Thank you for reading! I agree it is important for the next generation to learn and respect the strangers who fought for the blessed lives we live today.

  29. fancypaperblog | 11th Nov 17

    A lovely and interesting tribute. Belgium holds lovely memories for me and I will never forget my tour of Flanders. I bring the stories to class constantly x

    • stephaniewp | 11th Nov 17

      I think it is important for anyone to remember and visit those special places. and share their stories! I am glad you feel the same 🙂

  30. Sara Welch | 11th Nov 17

    That caribou is a gorgeous statue. I love visiting parks I frequented as a child. It brings back many fond memories.

  31. josypheen | 11th Nov 17

    This is such a lovely memory of your trip. I am so glad you found it. I guess the hard journey looking for the caribou made it even more exciting when you did find it.

    I love that you buried a lock under one statue and the key under another.

    • stephaniewp | 11th Nov 17

      Yes! It was actually a fun little adventure trying to find it in an old school way with no google maps!

  32. Melanie | 12th Nov 17

    What an amazing journey to the past. Being able to experience more of your country’s history and find a deeper sense of your patriotism is something we all should experience. Love the symbolism of connecting the past and present.

  33. Tim B | 12th Nov 17

    I hadn’t been aware that Newfoundland wasn’t an original Canadian province. Really enjoyed reading this post.

    • stephaniewp | 14th Nov 17

      Yes we were the last province to join Canada only joining a little over 60 years ago. May people here relate to being more Newfoundlander than Candian still! Thanks for reading!

  34. Cyn Gagen | 12th Nov 17

    This is so interesting to me. I’m fascinated with history and it’s so important to me that those who gave their lives for us.

  35. Lynndee | 12th Nov 17

    What an interesting monument and I’m glad you found it. I would love to visit Belgium someday and it would be nice to see that monument in person too.

  36. Up Run for Life Healthy Lifestyle | 13th Nov 17

    That is awesome that you got to travel abroad and see the ancient Caraboo. I had no clue that the Caraboo was Canadas representation of a War so long ago. It is important that we all don’t forget those who served before us.

  37. Adaleta Avdić | 13th Nov 17

    Wow this is such an incredible experience. I just loved reading your adventure and story!

  38. ricci | 13th Nov 17

    I love this story and the you founowhat you were looking for! What a great post!!

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