With The Monuments Men film out, viewers will see a star studded cast telling the story of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program. It consisted of museum directors, curators, art historians and others from 13 different countries. These daring individuals, often unarmed, risked their lives throughout Nazi occupied Europe to help recover works of precious art before they were stolen or destroyed by Hitler and the Third Reich.
The Lincoln and Welland Regiment have its very own “Monuments Man”. Although he was not racing over Europe to stop Hitler’s Nazis from destroying and looting precious works of art consisting of thousands of years of culture, likely never to make it to the “Big Screen”, he nonetheless has played an important role in preserving Canada’s heritage.
Brigadier General Ernest Alexander Cruikshank, VD, was born in Bertie Township on 29 June 1853, the son of Alexander Cruikshank and Margaret Milne. He was educated at Upper Canada College, and acquired a translating knowledge of French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Danish, and Swedish. During his earlier years he farmed near Fort Erie.
He was commissioned as an Ensign, and rose through the ranks until he was appointed Commanding Officer of the 44th “Lincoln and Welland” Battalion of Infantry in 1899, and when the militia was reorganized, the 44th Lincoln and Welland Regiment. In 1904, he was promoted to Colonel and appointed Officer Commanding of the 5th Infantry Brigade. Cruikshank was appointed Honorary Colonel of the 44th “Lincoln and Welland” Regiment in 1905. In 1909 he was appointed Commander of Military District No 3, with headquarters in Calgary, Alberta, an appointment he held until 1917. In 1917, Cruikshank was assigned to the Western Front in France. His promotion to Brigadier General was made in 1915.
Cruikshank was appointed as the first director of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1919 and retired from the military in 1921. For the remainder of his life he served as Chairman of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
General Cruikshank had a life-long interest in Canadian history, especially the military and early settlement history of Niagara. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1906, and in 1935 was awarded the Society’s Tyrrell medal for distinguished work in Canadian history.
In his early years he took an active part in local politics. He served as Reeve of Bertie Township, a member of local council, a police magistrate, and Clerk of the District Court. In 1886 was elected Warden of Welland County.
General Cruikshank married in 1879, but he and his wife, Julia, had no children. He died in Ottawa on 23 June 1939.