A competition was held in 1925 to seek designs for a Canadian national war memorial to be dedicated to the First World War. One hundred and twenty seven entries were received and the winner was Vernon March from Farnborough in the UK. His theme was to represent the response of Canada to war, symbolised by service people from all disciplines marching through a triumphal arch, but with a deliberate aim to avoid the glorification of war.
The central design is of twenty two Canadian servicemen and women, from all branches of the forces engaged in the First World War in historically correct uniforms, each figure is approximately 2.4 metres high. At the front are infantrymen; to the left a Lewis gunner, to the right a kilted soldier with a Vickers machine gun. Following these are a pilot in full gear, an air mechanic, and a sailor. Both a cavalryman and a mounted artilleryman are emerging from the arch, side by side, followed by two riflemen pressing through the arch, and behind them are the men and women of the support services, including nurses, a stretcher bearer, and a lumberman.
The memorial was officially opened on 21 May 1939 by King George VI, only months before the start of the next global conflict. Dates commemorating the Second World War and the Korean War were added in 1982. Located on the upper plaza, in front of the existing National War Memorial monument, a dark Caledonia granite sarcophagus containing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was added in 2000. The unidentified soldier was selected from a cemetery in the vicinity of Vimy Ridge, the site of a famous Canadian battle of the First World War.