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Record of Discussion - Commemoration Advisory Group

Wednesday, October 21, 2020
1300-1400 (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
  • Danny Martin, Royal Canadian Legion
  • Lieutenant Colonel Jim Mills, Team Lead National Commemorations, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Canadian Armed Forces
  • 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

  • Andrea Waselnuk, Policy Advisor, Stakeholders and Events

Veterans Affairs Canada Officials

  • Paul Thomson, Director General, Commemoration Division (Co-chair)
  • John Desrosiers, Director, European Operations, Commemoration Division
  • Michael Pearson, Director, Commemoration Operations, Commemoration Division
  • Rob Walker, Director, Policy, Learning and Recognition, Commemoration Division
  • Alexandre Asselin, Acting Director, Public Affairs, Communications Division
  • Mylène Croteau, Manager, Communications, Communications Division
  • Karen Rose, Senior Analyst, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach, Communications Division


  • Jamie Morse, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman

Opening Remarks

The VAC and member co-chairs welcomed the members. The VAC co-chair indicated that the purpose of the meeting was to provide information on the plans for Veterans Week 2020, as well as updates on other key files, including the National Monument to Canada’s mission in Afghanistan and the Commemoration 10 Year Strategic Plan.

Veterans Week 2020 – November 5 – 11

The central theme of Veterans Week 2020 is the 75th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War with a focus on storytelling through the Faces of Freedom theme to engage Canadians. It was noted that the majority of the signature events would be virtual, such as the Candlelight Ceremony at the Canadian War Museum, with others, including the National Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa being significantly scaled back.

A number of key activities were highlighted including:

  • A virtual panel held on November 9, in partnership with the Canadian War Museum, on the future of Commemoration and what remembrance in Canada could look like in the years to come. This is the first panel in a series and Advisory Group members were invited to provide ideas for future panels and panelists. Information on the panel will be sent to the members and they are encouraged to share with their networks and contacts.
  • A new virtual Home Learning Corner was created to help youth and parents learn more about Remembrance and Canadian military history. New Veterans Week materials for schools were developed and have been available since September via the online ordering system.
  • The Director, European Operations indicated that they are working to keep the commemorative schedule and will host a Remembrance ceremony on November 8 at Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial with a wreath laying taking place on the November 11 at both the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial and Canadian National Vimy Memorial sites. He noted that poppies would be laid on all Canadian graves including post-War markers, in recognition of their service to Canada at the Choloy War Cemetery in Choloy, France.
  • The Minister will present approximately 150 Commendation Awards during this commemorative period virtually. Over 1980 wreaths were provided to Parliamentarians and Senators for services in their local communities.
  • The Royal Canadian Legion representative noted that they will host a ceremony with 100 officials that will include an F18 fly pass, and a fly over by a vintage Dakota that was involved in D-Day drops and the repatriation of Prisoners of War. Note: unfortunately, due to the weather, this event did not take place. 
  • The Communications Team Leader responsible for Commemoration spoke to the Faces of Freedom podcasts. There are eight episodes that recount the key battles and stages and explore the stories of the Canadians who served. Members were encouraged to check out the podcasts, which are available on all major platforms, and to share with their networks.

The discussions explored the following:

  • The opportunity to reach new audiences with digital and virtual content.
  • The challenge of working with partners on meaningful ways to engage in the COVID environment when all provinces operate with different rules that are applied in different ways.
  • The overall message this year which will encourage the public participate in Remembrance Day from the safety of their homes.

European Operations

The Director, European Operations, based in France, provided an update on the operations:

  • Student Guides at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial and Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial sites returned to Canada in March, 2020, and are not anticipated to return to the sites any time soon. The reduced staff compliment creates challenges for operations and greatly reduced visitor experience programming. A number of self-guided tours have been created and they are working on a self-guided tour app.
  • EF tours organized a virtual tour of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial site, including the tunnels and trenches, followed by a question and answer virtual session. Almost 5,000 students and teachers have participated and it was very successful. A virtual tour of Beaumont-Hamel is now being organized as well.
  • It was noted that COVID is in its 2nd wave in Europe and the sites will close in November and re-open in February.
  • Two other major projects are underway:
    • Replacing the large Thuja trees at Saint Julien Canadian Memorial in Belgium and;
    • The refurbishment of the water system at the Canadian Memorial in Green Park, London, UK.

National Monument to Canada’s Mission in Afghanistan

  • The five finalist design teams have been selected as part of the Request for Proposals (RFP) process.
  • In conjunction with Canadian Heritage and the National Capital Commission, a virtual site visit with the finalists will take place.
  • Key next steps and timelines:
    • May and June, 2021: Canadian Heritage will lead a public viewing of the designs developed. An online viewing will also be part of this process;
    • 2021-22: following the public viewing, the jury will select the design concept;
    • 2023: the sod-turning ceremony will be held and construction will begin;
    • November 2024: The monument will be unveiled.
  • The Department will continue to consult the AG members and let them know when the design concepts are available for viewing.

Commemoration 10 Year Strategic Plan

  • The strategic plan was discussed with the members at meetings held in July 2019 and February 2020. Due to the pandemic, consultations on the plan were delayed. They are expected to begin again early in 2021. However, consultations with educators about tailoring educational products to their needs are currently underway.
  • The intent is to consult with Veterans and still-serving Canadian Armed Forces members to hear their views on the commemoration of the missions they were involved in and how they would like their service recognized.
  • Information on these consultations will be shared broadly with key audiences including Veterans, youth, educators, and Indigenous peoples.
  • At this time, elements of the draft Strategic Plan are being completed, after which a copy will be provided to the members.
  • The importance of working with the members and reaching out to the broader Veteran stakeholder communities to get input and feedback was noted.

Round Table

  • It was noted that the 75th anniversary of Peacekeeping is in 2023 and the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association (CPVA) will forward a proposal to Commemoration with an idea for commemorating this anniversary.
  • The meeting was adjourned.
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