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Canada Remembers Times
Veterans’ Week Special Edition

5-11 November 2021 - Page 3

Canada’s military—reflecting our diverse country

A brave Inuit soldier from Labrador

John Shiwak in 1915.
Photo: Library and Archives Canada

The efforts of Indigenous service members over the years have been very impressive. One such individual was John Shiwak, an Inuit hunter and trapper from the Labrador village of Rigolet. He joined the Newfoundland Regiment in July 1915 during the First World War and was soon serving overseas.

He was a physically small man but his skill and bravery were immense, and his experience in living off the land was put to great use in the military. Lance Corporal Shiwak established a battlefield reputation as a skilled sniper (sharp shooter) and scout (a soldier who stealthily gathers information on enemy positions). Sadly, he was killed by enemy artillery fire in France on 21 November 1917 during the Battle of Cambrai. The quiet soldier had made quite an impact on his comrades, with one officer writing to Shiwak’s family that he was “a great favourite with all ranks, an excellent scout and observer, and a thoroughly good and reliable fellow in every way.”

Lance Corporal Shiwak was 28 years old when he died and is commemorated on the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial in France. The tradition of this kind of proud Indigenous military service continues today in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Fighting for LGBTQ2+ rights

Michelle Douglas in uniform.
Copyright: Michelle Douglas

Michelle Douglas was born in Ottawa. As a young woman, she pursued studies in law and joined the Canadian Armed Forces. Her career initially seemed promising. She served as an air force second lieutenant, and then was invited to join the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), uncovering criminal activity in the military. One of the first female officers to join this group, she was a trailblazer in her field, but unfortunately would encounter major professional barriers.

At the time, one of the SIU’s responsibilities was investigating service members who were thought to be homosexuals—a group that then faced great discrimination in the military. A polygraph machine was even sometimes used to try to identify individuals from the LGBTQ2+ community.

Douglas was a lesbian but wanted to remain in uniform, so she hid her personal life from her colleagues. However, she was soon interrogated by fellow investigators regarding her sexual orientation. She eventually was pressured to admit the truth and was discharged from the Canadian Armed Forces in 1989.

She reluctantly accepted her dismissal but launched a legal challenge against the military’s discriminatory policy. In 1992, just before her case went to trial, the Canadian Armed Forces settled out of court and formally reversed its unfair rules. By standing up for what was right, Douglas had helped pave the way for LGBTQ2+ rights in our country’s military.

Forty years of distinguished service

CWO Cromwell later in his career.
Photo courtesy of Claude Cromwell.

Claude “Ollie” Cromwell was born in Digby, Nova Scotia, and moved to Montreal as a teenager. He joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1979 and began a long career in military logistics.

Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) Cromwell would serve at bases across the country. He also took part in domestic military operations in response to natural disasters like the massive ice storm in Eastern Canada in 1998 and forest fires in British Columbia in 2003.

CWO Cromwell also served overseas. He was posted in Lahr, West Germany, with Canada’s NATO forces in Europe (1984- 1990) and took part in international peace support efforts in the Golan Heights (1983), Cyprus (1993), Kosovo (1999) and Afghanistan (2006). As well, he was named Camp Sergeant Major for the Canadian Armed Forces contingent at the Nijmegen Marches in the Netherlands in 2012. As the Task Force Sergeant Major of the Disaster Assistance Relief Team, CWO Cromwell also deployed to Nepal after a major earthquake in 2015.

CWO Cromwell’s many contributions were recognized in several ways, including being named a member of the Order of Military Merit. He finally retired as a Divisional Sergeant Major within the Assistant Deputy Minister (Materiel) Group in 2019 after 40 years of distinguished service.

Monumental thinking

The new “Trail of the Caribou” memorial in Gallipoli.

The new “Trail of the Caribou” memorial in Gallipoli.
Photo: Veterans Affairs Canada

National monuments are important for our society—they help us remember our past artistically. Usually, artists and other professionals work together to create these memorials. Canada has unique ones both at home and overseas, such as the National War Memorial in Ottawa and the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, to commemorate different military efforts over the years. Interestingly, two major new war monuments have also been in the news.

One of these is a new National Monument to Canada’s Mission in Afghanistan that will honour Canadian Armed Forces members, police officers, public servants and civilians who served there. It will also recognize the strong support of Canadians at home. What a great way to remember all those involved.

Another new memorial was installed in Turkey earlier this year to commemorate the Newfoundland Regiment’s efforts at Gallipoli during the First World War. It will add to the existing set of five large bronze statues of a caribou (the emblem of the unit) that honour significant battles the Newfoundlanders fought in France and Belgium. Known as the “Trail of the Caribou,” the original plan after the conflict had included a sixth statue at Gallipoli—a vision that has now finally come true.

Navigating through minefields

HMCS Athabaskan in the Persian Gulf in 1991.

HMCS Athabaskan in the Persian Gulf in 1991.
Photo: Department of National Defence

HMCS Athabaskan was one of the Canadian Armed Forces vessels that took part in the Gulf War. One memorable occasion for those who served aboard her during the conflict came in February 1991. The ship went to the aid of the USS Princeton, an American warship that had been seriously damaged by Iraqi mines off the coast of Kuwait.

Keeping a vigilant watch while crossing hundreds of kilometres of dangerous waters and navigating through enemy minefields in the Persian Gulf, the Athabaskan escorted a Coalition fleet tugboat that would safely extract the American warship. The tension they felt during the mission was immense, but in the end it had been a success.

Did you know?

The Star of Military Valour.
Photo: Department of National Defence

Countless Canadians have displayed great courage while serving in uniform over the years. During the First and Second World Wars, and in the Korean War, Canadians who earned valour medals received awards used in the British honours system.

In more recent decades, however, a revised set of Canadian bravery decorations has been used. One of these medals is the Star of Military Valour. Second in status only to the Victoria Cross, it is awarded for “distinguished and valiant service in the presence of the enemy.” Twenty people earned this prestigious medal during our country’s mission to Afghanistan—the bravest of the brave.

Some Canadian military milestones

Korean War and Post War Effort Milestones

KOREAN WAR 1950-1953

  • 25 June 1950 - Korean War begins
  • 24-25 April 1951 - Canadians hold the line at Kapyong
  • 27 July 1953 - Korean War Armistice signed

POST WAR EFFORTS 1950s-present

  • 1956 - Canadian peacekeepers go to Egypt
  • 1960 - Canadian peacekeepers arrive in the Congo
  • 1964 - Canadian peacekeepers go to Cyprus
  • 1974 - Canadian peacekeepers go to the Golan Heights
  • 10 December 1988 - Nobel Peace Prize awarded to UN peacekeepers
  • 1990-1991 - Canadians take part in the Gulf War
  • September 1993 - Canadians fight at the Medak Pocket in Croatia
  • 1999 - Canadian peacekeepers go to East Timor
  • 2001-2014 - Canadians take part in the mission in Afghanistan
  • 2018 - Canadian peacekeepers deploy to Mali
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