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Record of Discussion – Commemoration Advisory Group

July 30, 2019
0900-1600 (EDT)

In Attendance

Commemoration Advisory Group Members

  • Danny Martin, Royal Canadian Legion
  • 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
  • Lieutenant Colonel Jim Mills, Team Lead National Commemorations, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Canadian Armed Forces (teleconference)
  • Gerry Wharton, Army, Navy, Air Force Veterans in Canada
  • Dr. Lee Windsor, University of New Brunswick Gregg Centre

Office of the Minister of Veterans Affairs

  • John Embury, Director of Communications

Veterans Affairs Canada Officials

  • Paul Thomson, Director General, Commemoration Division, Veterans Affairs Canada (Co-chair)
  • Shannon Hartigan, Project Lead, Commemoration strategic plan
  • Karen Rose, Senior Analyst, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach
  • Trudy Burke, Director, Commemoration Operations
  • John Desrosiers, Director, European Operations
  • Rob Walker, Strategic Advisor, Commemoration


  • Victoria Wallace, Director General, Commonwealth War Graves Commission


  • Charles Cue, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman (Observer)


The Veterans Affairs Canada Co-chair welcomed the members and introduced the members of the Commemoration Management Team who were invited to contribute their expertise to the discussion and hear the views expressed.

Commemoration: The Way Forward

The purpose of the meeting was to consult on the vision for commemoration after 2020. With the end of the First World War centennial period and the Second World War 75th anniversary commemoration period entering its final phase, it is time to consider commemoration post 2020 and programs that resonate with Canadians. Veterans’ needs and expectations are changing, identifying with new demographics such as new Canadians and expanding our outreach to youth needs to be considered, and new technologies and trends need to be incorporated to engage and teach.

The presentation Commemoration: The Way Forward - was used to guide the discussion throughout the day.

Discussion included:

  • Improving the navigation and ability to find the Commemoration information on the Veterans Affairs Canada website for both Canadian and international audiences. It was noted that .ca domain is problematic in Europe and the Veterans Affairs Canada web content often doesn’t appear in searches for commemoration information or is not near the top.
  • The ongoing interest in the First World War battlefields for both Canadians and international travelers. Consider how to leverage this interest and create reliable information for travelers who plan up to eight to nine months in advance of their trip. The plan to create a “Travel Guide” with pre-determined travel itineraries to assist travelers with their journeys. Examples could be a Vimy to Juno itinerary, Caribou Trail, Ypres Salient, Canada’s Last 100 Days, etc. 
  • Large groups of students from the United Kingdom and France are visiting the battlefields, such as Vimy and Beaumont-Hamel, as part of school curriculums. Consider how to engage Canadian students and bring them this overseas experience.
  • The challenge of communicating commemorative events, consider ways to promote the calendar of events. A suggestion was that an outreach expert be available on-line to provide advice and assist organizations and others to develop and post their events.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The Director General of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) provided an overview of their work in care for cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations in over 150 countries, including 110,355 Canadian First and Second World War dead. They are also involved in education and public engagement and have an internship program, modelled after VAC’s Student Guide Program in France, which has been successful in reaching youth. See for more information.

Discussion Period 1 - Vision of Commemoration after 2020

The members considered questions such as:

  1. What do Canadians know about Canada’s military history, including youth, new Canadians, Indigenous Canadians, etc.
  2. In what ways do Canadians honour those who served?
  3. How are Veterans and family members involved in remembrance and recognition activities?

Highlights of discussion:

  • In the first half of the 20th century military history centered around core events, such as Battle of Vimy Ridge, Battle of the Atlantic and D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. For modern day Veterans, history will be a collection of stories of every day experiences. Therefore, future education and messaging will also focus on experiences and stories that are relatable and that will resonate with Canadians and others.  
  • Second World War Veterans and war dead deserve a parallel experience of those who served in the First World War, including events overseas to commemorate service and sacrifices, up until the 100th anniversaries. 
  • It is important that Canadians understand the history of present day missions and their connections to the First and Second World Wars. 
  • The five-year event cycle should end after 100 is commemorated and then advance to a 25 year cycle. However, this approach could be influenced by how other Allied countries are approaching World Wars commemoration going forward.
  • Increasingly, provincial education curricula are not based on learning about battles and events. They are instead designed around the development of research skills, understanding what constitutes a good source, making critical judgements around the values of evidence and learning interview skills.    

Discussion Period 2 - Priorities? How do we get there?

Highlights of Discussion:

  • Veterans’ organizations are looking for the department to set the course for future national initiatives with significant lead time (two years was suggested) to support and develop plans to commemorate.  
  • An approach was supported that would be centered in Canada, based on geographic locations where the Canadian Armed Forces, including unique operations, humanitarian, peacemaking and peacekeeping operations. For example –
    • 2020 – Liberation of the Netherlands; end of the Second World War
    • 2021 – Canada in the Middle East and Cyprus
    • 2022 – Canada in the Balkans
    • 2023 – Canada South East Asia; Dieppe; Korean War Armistice
    • 2024 – Canada in Africa; D-Day/Italy
    • 2025 – Canada in South West Asia
  • The August 9, National Peacekeepers’ Day could be leveraged leading to Veterans’ Week with the narrative running throughout the year.   
  • The in-Canada approach could also include an overseas component on a much smaller scale to acknowledge the signpost events that changed the course of world history. 
  • Small delegations could have a focus on youth/student, whose experiences overseas could be leveraged in Canada to promote and advance the commemorate message. Veterans would also be part of these delegations.
  • Consider how to utilize the participants from the Student Guide Program in France at Vimy and Beaumont-Hamel as ambassadors with youth in Canada when they come back. 
  • Build in programs that would connect and resonate with new Canadians who may have been displaced by conflicts that Canada’s military supported – e.g., Citizens from the former Yugoslavia.
  • Veterans, serving members, families, other stakeholders will need to be engaged and consulted. The long term strategic plan will need to be well communicated so that government and Canadians understand the increasing emphasis on modern day Veterans.
  • Memorials and monuments were discussed and the need to make long-term investments in overseas sites and also a Government of Canada approach to address the many requests for funds to assist with care and maintenance of non-government war memorials overseas.
  • The Strategic Plan should identify what new things can be done, what will continue, and other things that may no longer be required.
  • The Community Partnership Program (CPP) has limited funds, possibly one intake to access the CPP could be implemented. The members support the concept of continuing funding to third party memorials. 
  • If we partner with organizations or corporations the issue of logos and their interpretation of the commemorative message could be problematic.
  • Consider how to better engage and work with new stakeholder organizations who are interested in commemoration such as Wounded Warriors, True Patriot Love Foundation and Canada Company.

Next steps:

  • Creating the narrative for the new approach to modern day Veterans as part of the 10 year strategic plan for further consultation with the Commemoration Advisory Group and other stakeholders. 

Updates on Commemoration Activities

  • National Monument to Canada’s Mission in Afghanistan is advancing. On the Department’s external website, there is a dedicated landing page that includes information on the monument and a feature that allows all Canadians share their thoughts. See link. Work is underway on a focused and formal consultation for early in 2020.
  • Working on the events for the end of the Second World War in 2020. The Kingdom of the Netherlands is engaged and is also is exploring a tulip program with 1100 Canadian schools. It was noted that a travel subsidy of up to $2,000 is available to any Second World War Veterans that are attending a 75th anniversary event in Canada or overseas.

Members and the co-chair thanked Veterans Affairs Canada for the opportunity to be consulted. The meeting was adjourned.

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