Linda F. | June 26, 2014
The Jenny Wren statue was given to the city of Galt in October 8, 1972 by the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (or Wrens) who trained in Galt during the Second World War. The statue honours the women of the WRCNS and is an expression of thanks to the City of Galt where the Wrens received their basic training from 1943 to 1945. The idea for the statue originated at a Wren reunion and was commissioned as fewer and fewer Wrens were able to attend anniversary functions. It was unveiled by the artist, Frances Marie Gage, and Isabel J. Macneill, OC, OBE, CM, the commander of HMCS Conestoga. Over 3,000 people attended the ceremony, including Wrens, dignitaries from all levels of government, Naval veterans and the public. The statue is five feet high, made of bronze with a green patina, and was cast in Britain. It was the first statue to commemorate servicewomen in Canada.
About 6,000 Wrens recruited from across Canada arrived in Galt for basic training before receiving their wartime assignments. They took a three-week training course which introduced them to military ways in a “stone frigate.” This was a group of buildings previously known as the Galt Training School for Girls, but which was called HMCS Conestoga while the Wrens occupied it. Recruits were piped on and off the stone ship as if they were actually afloat. The WRCNS were trained to perform a variety of jobs that would release men to go overseas, such as clerical work, equipment repair, transport driver (one Wren described driving an average of 500 miles a day, mostly within a 20-mile radius), cook and hospital aide. The statue of Jenny Wren commemorates the war work of the young women who served with the Royal Canadian Navy.
The statue was a labour of love for the artist, Frances Gage, who was among the WRNS who graduated from HMCS Conestoga. During the war, her work was with codes and cyphers, and she was sent to the west coast to intercept Japanese signals and operate specially coded typewriters. Frances was born in Windsor in 1924, and has been one of Canada's most prolific sculptors. She studied at Oshawa, Toronto, New York and Paris and taught at the University of Guelph. Her work includes sculpture and relief panels for Fanshawe College, crests for the Metro bridges in Toronto, and a marble sculpture for the Women's College Hospital in Toronto. Truly a woman of many talents, shortly before the unveiling ceremony in 1972 she confided to a reporter that she herself had brought the statue and the heavy limestone base from Toronto on a flatbed truck, travelling at 30 miles an hour.
Two other gatherings have been held at the statue of Jenny Wren. The first was held on October 1997 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the unveiling of the statue. The second was on May 16, 2010 when a second plaque was added to the statue, marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Canadian Navy. The special Canadian Naval Centennial Rose “Navy Lady”, provided by Idea Exchange, was also planted around Jenny Wren.
The statue has become a well-known city landmark, fondly regarded by the people of Cambridge.