Archive for the ‘History’ Category

A Call to Remember

Posted: January 13, 2007 in History

I’m currently involved in a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (I’m one of the ‘techie’ guys) and I have to tell you it’s been a great experience. Today was the high point of the process so far. There’s a step in the process called “polishing” in which an person who has not been a part of the production is invited to make observations, comments, offer advice, and in a word, help to “polish” the performance. Today I was thrilled to watch as R.H. Thomson, a great Canadian actor, held our polishing workshop at Guelph Little Theatre. It was one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had, watching as Thomson worked and reworked scenes with the members of our cast.

As great as it was to sit in on this experience, it’s not the workshop I want to tell you about. it’s what he had to say after the workshop I want to share with you.

April 2007 marks the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The monument to this event will be rededicated this year in France as part of the ceremonies marking the anniversary. To acknowledge the event here in Canada R.H.Thomson has initiated “The Words from Vimy Project.” Full details are available at the projects web site, but in a nutshell what they are seeking to do is hold a virtual role call of the Canadians that fought in that battle, many of whom lie buried on that very site.

To do this the project is seeking to contact the families of all the men who fought at Vimy Ridge. With the family’s permission, pictures, letters, personal thoughts and reflections, and comments by the surviving relatives will be collected and digitized to create a narrative of the Battle of Vimy Ridge using the words of young men who were there. This archive will allow Canadians to not just remember that so many young men gave their lives in April 1917, but to connect individually with many of the 97,000 Canadians who took part.

So if you are the relative of someone who fought at Vimy Ridge, or know someone who is, I ask you on behalf of the project (with R.H.Thomson’s permission) to contact the project and discuss with them having your relative’s memories added to the archive. You can link to either this blog or the project itself.

Help create a lasting and very personal memorial to these brave young men.

It should be noted that this is not RH Thomson’s first foray into the virtual world. Click on this link to read an article on his involvement with Canada’s Virtual War Memorial.

Please, Don’t remind me…

Posted: January 3, 2007 in History
I have always been confused by Canadians’ apparent dislike for their own history, but I never fully appreciated until today just how deep this aversion runs. 

In an article entitled “A lesson in respect” published in today’s Toronto Sun, Sheila Copps points out a major difference between Canada and the U.S. in regard to respect for our leaders. As you are likely aware, U.S. presidents establish a library at the end of their terms that contains memoirs, papers, correspondence etc. that define their term in office. In Canada however, no such libraries exist; in fact, we don’t even have a single library for all their papers. Not only that but we have even squashed every attempt to create one. I’ll quote Ms. Copps….

Two attempts to establish the Canadian equivalent of a presidential library have failed. The first, at the newly minted Canadian Museum of Civilization, was quashed more than two decades ago when cost overruns terminated the project in the planning stages. Prime Minister Paul Martin recently killed the second, a proposed Canadian history museum, because the project was too closely associated to his former boss. Neither decision was surprising. Canadians are averse to hero worship and even more leery about positive political histories.

Why is this? Can anyone out there explain to me why it is that we are so indifferent to our own history in this country? Especially when so much time and effort is spent agonizing over just what it is to be a Canadian? National identity is born out of a nation’s history. Canada is the country it is today because of what has happened in our past, especially in the political arena. We are who we are because of the actions of people like Douglas, Deifenbaker, Trudeau and Pearson, and yes, even the likes of Mulroney, Turner, Clark and Campbell.

Every Prime Minister, regardless of political affiliation, has contributed in some way to making Canada the country so many people around the world want to call home. These contributions deserve to be chronicled and remembered. The inside story as to how and why decisions were made, both good and bad, are important if we are to learn the lessons the past has to teach us. And yet, because we seem to consider politicians unworthy of remembering, for any reason, we will instead condemn future generations to fighting the same battles over and over again.

So great is our disregard for the people who have led this great country, it took an act of parliament under the authority of Parks Canada to ensure that weeds do not over grow the graves of former Prime Ministers. Apparently we aren’t even willing to mow the grass to afford them some small measure of dignity.

Once again, I have to ask the question, Why? Earlier I referred to our attitude toward history as indifference; that might not be quite right. We recoil from our history so intensely I wonder if we aren’t in some measure ashamed of it. Like an embarrassed twenty-something we would rather people didn’t mention the things we did when we were teenagers. Our current attitudes and preferences are so different from what they once were we can’t believe, and don’t want to admit, we ever held to any other philosophy.

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe when it comes to the community of nations we are still just a twenty-something. After all, while other nations have been around for hundreds, even thousands of years, Canada is a mere 140 years old. As nations go, we’re still a teenager, maybe even adolescent. Maybe, like most teenagers, we can’t think beyond the next big date, what parties will we be invited to, or which nation is paying attention to us this week. Maybe, like most teenagers, we won’t care about what really matters in life until we’ve grown up a little bit.

So, let me play the role of parent and say — Pay attention to your history Canada. Like older relatives, one day you’ll appreciate the wisdom of those who once led this country. I know it doesn’t make sense to you right now, but trust me, you’ll understand when you get older!


Lest We Forget

Posted: November 6, 2006 in History, Politics
Tags: , ,

Each November we see a wide variety of things come to light that are intended to help us remember the men and women who have given their lives in the service of their country. Some of these are good and honourable ideas, others are just attempts to cash in on the emotions that run high at this time of year. Every once in a while however an idea surfaces that is an unqualified ‘ one of ‘ that makes you sit up and take notice. Today, I came across such an idea.

There are three Canadians left alive who served during the First World War. They are: 105-year-old Dwight (Percy) Wilson (shown in photo getting a kiss from his grand-daughter on his 105th birthday) and Lloyd Clemett and John Babcock, both 106. They are the last remaining links to the 619,636 Canadians who served between 1914 and 1918. Soon, when they too have passed on, there will be no one left to say, “Thank You” to from that terrible time in our history.

The Dominion Institute has suggested that when the inevitable day comes that the last of Canada’s WWI veterans passes, they should, on behalf of all the 66, 655 Canadians who died in service to their country during that war, be given a formal state funeral. I fully agree.

The passing of the last WWI veteran will, in fact, mark the passing of a generation, even an era. We should do all we can to make sure that their sacrifice does not fade from memory. To give the last veteran a state funeral as a significant tribute to every soldier who died in WWI is by all means a very fitting act. I hope you agree as well.

I am therefore asking you to join with me in asking our federal government to do just that. There is an online petition available to be signed at . You may well have heard about this on the news by now, so what I have written here is not news. Some of you have already signed and for that I thank you. If you hadn’t please take a moment to click on the link above and do so. You will receive a verification email that requires you click another link to verify your email address is a valid one. The whole process takes only a few minutes.

The passing of the last Canadian WWI veteran will only happen once in our entire history. Let’s make sure it is an event that is well remembered.