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Record of Discussion – Commemoration Advisory Group

May 1, 2020
1330-1430 (EDT)

In Attendance

Commemoration Advisory Group Members

  • Dr. Steve Harris, Directorate of History and Heritage, Department of National Defence, (Co-chair)
  • Derrill Henderson, National Council of Veteran Associations in Canada & Hong Kong Veterans Association of Canada
  • Ray Kokkonen, Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association
  • Dion Edmonds and Jessica Kovar for Danny Martin, Royal Canadian Legion
  • Dr. Lee Windsor, University of New Brunswick Gregg Centre


  • Lieutenant Colonel Jim Mills, Team Lead National Commemorations, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Canadian Armed Forces
  • Gerry Wharton, Army, Navy, Air Force Veterans in Canada
  • Charles Cue, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman (Observer)

Office of the Minister of Veterans Affairs

  • Andrea Waselnuk, Policy Advisor, Stakeholders and Events
  • Benjamin Sparkes, Policy Advisor and Parliamentary Affairs Atlantic

Veterans Affairs Canada Officials

  • Paul Thomson, Director General, Commemoration Division, Veterans Affairs Canada (Co-chair)
  • Shannon Hartigan, Project lead – 2020-2030 Strategic Plan for Communications
  • Trudy Burke, Director, Commemoration Operations
  • John Desrosiers, Director, European Operations
  • Sylvie Thibodeau-Sealy, Director, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach
  • Karen Rose, Senior Analyst, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach
  • Kristine Racicot, Director, Public Affairs, Communications Division

Opening Remarks

The VAC and member co-chairs welcomed the members. It was explained that the purpose of the meeting was to update the members on the plans to commemorate the upcoming 75th anniversaries of the Battle of the Atlantic, Liberation of the Netherlands and V-E Day, given the restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was noted that it will be a good test run for hosting future virtual engagements and a valuable opportunity to observe, learn and build on the various channels to determine what works and what doesn’t with various audiences.

The VAC co-chair provided updates on key files in which the members had been engaged including:

National Monument to Canada’s Mission in Afghanistan –

  • The final report on the consultations on design considerations that were held in the winter, and in which the CAG members participated, will be published soon and posted on VAC’s Afghanistan Monument web page. Members will be advised by email once the report is published.
  • Following the consultations, the design guidelines that will assist finalist teams in developing their concepts for the Monument were approved by the National Capital Commission Board and a seven-person jury for the design competition was finalized.
  • Canadian Heritage, a partner in this project, will send all jury members the 24 submissions received. In late June the jury will decide on up to five finalist design teams who will be invited to develop design concepts or “mock-ups.”
  • The visit of the finalist design teams to the Monument site is now projected to take place in October (instead of May), pending the lifting of restrictions imposed by COVID-19, after which the development of design concepts will begin.
  • Subsequent project milestones may also be pushed out as a result of the circumstances surrounding COVID-19.

European Operations

  • Commemorative sites in Europe are closed, consistent with Canadian and French authorities. Visitor activities, including all guided tours at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial and the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial sites, are suspended until further notice.
  • Student guides were sent home early with a number of students working on commemoration content as we work to boost the self-guided tour tools. All staff in France continue to work and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is working the best they can on maintaining the sites.
  • A resumption of service plan is in development and there is the potential that we may not have student guides until 2021 – consistent with authorities’ directions and with respect to resumption plans, we continue to follow the French authorities.

Commemoration 10 Year Strategic Plan

  • The plan was part of the discussion with the CAG members at their meeting in July 2019 and February 2020.
  • Consultations are delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The intent was that consultations would begin in the spring and include educators to tailor learning products to their needs. They would consult Veterans and still-serving Canadian Armed Forces to hear their views on the commemoration of the missions they were involved in and how they would like their service recognized.
  • At this time, the timing to restart the consultations is being considered as well as the date to begin outreach that would focus on post-Korea Veterans, Indigenous Veterans and other key cohorts. The members were asked for their thoughts on the timing of these efforts.
  • Work is underway to finish a number of elements of the draft Strategic Plan after which a copy will be provided to the members
  • As part of the discussion, the importance of working with the members and other stakeholders on these consultations and sharing and communicating to the large stakeholder and Veteran communities for their input and feedback was raised.

Plans to commemorate the 75th anniversaries of the Battle of the Atlantic, the Liberation of the Netherlands and V-E Day

The VAC co-chair presented - Plans to commemorate the 75th anniversaries of the Battle of the Atlantic, the Liberation of the Netherlands and V-E Day.

Prior to the teleconference, members were encouraged to visit the Veterans Affairs Canada website 75th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands and the Victory in Europe and take note of the Faces of Freedom podcasts created so that visitors can listen to these heroes firsthand. They were also encouraged to check out the Canada Remembers Facebook and Instagram channels.

The VAC co-chair reviewed the plan and noted that it focused on four themes:

  • Telling our Veterans’ Stories – featuring eight Veterans’ podcasts. He noted that the feedback has been positive and encouraged the members to listen and share.
  • Promoting learning activities - reached out recently to over 52,000 educators and use our learning materials in the lead-up to V-E day. He noted that they are monitoring to see what the update will be from educators.
  • Encouraging Engagement via social media and the hashtag – #Tulipsathome
  • Sharing our partners’ content and encouraging our partners to share VAC material

It was highlighted that this is an opportunity to do things differently, and see what resonates with our key audiences. The analytics gathered from the various virtual channels used will help determine what could be leveraged going forward.


  • Members were encouraged to share information on any commemorative event that they are aware of so that VAC can amplify them of their various Commemoration social media channels.
  • It was noted that this virtual model may need to be used for Victory over Japan (VJ Day) on August 15.
  • It was noted that when we are able to return to in-person gatherings, the importance of hosting virtual events will continue in order to reach a broader audience. With more people online it is a great opportunity to increase exposure while learning new and innovate ways to commemorate.
  • Members were asked to promote the virtual ceremony for V-E Day on May 8 on their own channels and to provide feedback after the ceremony.
  • VAC was congratulated for pulling off this virtual commemoration in a short timeframe.

Meeting was adjourned.

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