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Commemorative events

Upcoming events that commemorate the sacrifices of Canadian Veterans.

COVID-19 has impacted commemorative events, programs and initiatives. Commemorative events hosted by VAC, stakeholders and other organizations have been adapted to meet the local COVID-19 restrictions and requirements. The status of the events may not always be fully up to date, so please contact the event organizers for more information. Some activities are being moved online so you can participate virtually.

You should follow all directions given by your local health authorities regarding public gatherings, regardless of an event’s status.

Virtual Panel on the Future of Commemoration in Canada

Watch Canadian War Museum historians Dr. Tim Cook, Dr. Mélanie Morin-Pelletier and Dr. Andrew Burtch discuss how our country’s past military efforts have been honoured over the years, and what commemoration and remembrance could look like in the future.

Transcription

Shannon Hartigan (0:01)

Hello and welcome to this first virtual panel of historians on the future of commemoration in Canada. I’m Shannon Hartigan, your moderator and I am a manager with Veterans Affairs Canada’s Commemoration Division, here in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, which is within the ancestral territorial and unceded territory of the Abegweit Mi’kmaq First Nation. It’s now my pleasure to invite the Honourable Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of Defense, Lawrence MacAulay, to offer his remarks. Welcome Minister MacAulay.

The Honourable Lawrence MacAulay (0:35)

Thank you very much Shannon and Dr. Cook, Dr. Morin-Pelletier, Dr. Burtch, friends, good afternoon. I truly want to thank you for being here and for being part of this vitally important discussion. For more than a hundred and fifty years, Canadians have served this country in uniform. From the trenches of Belgium to the mountains of Afghanistan and right through our long-term care homes today, they have remain the very best for us. It’s a legacy of service and sacrifice that we could all do well to remember, and it’s our responsibility to make sure that we pay them the respect that they deserve. Recently, we marked very important milestones. In 2017, we passed 65 years since the end of the Korean War and in 2020 it’s the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean conflict. Of course, this year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of both the liberation of the Netherlands and the end of the Second World War. But now it’s our time to turn to the future. We do all to remember our Veterans who have served since Korea, and how do we continue to find ways of passing on their stories. And that’s why we are here today. To listen and to learn, and to talk about how can we keep folks engaged in making sure that our proud military history and the memories of those who served do not fade with time. So again, I want to thank you for being part of this very important conversation, the torch of remembrance is in your hands, and it’s our responsibility to make sure that it continues to be held high. Lest We Forget. Thank you.

Shannon Hartigan (2:45)

Thank you, Minister, for your opening remarks. We know that Veterans’ Week is a very busy time for you and we are grateful that you could give us your time today.
And many of us across the country have been, and will be taking time for remembrance this week, in the lead up to Remembrance Day, and certainly our plans to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War look a bit different than we imagined they would, this time last year, so we’re gathered here around our screens, to reflect back on the Second World War, and how it is commonly been remembered over the years. And just as we’ve had to find alternate strategies this year, to honour those who served, we have an opportunity to ask ourselves how commemoration could and should look in the future.

Which brings us to the reason for this discussion, the first in a series of panels that Veterans Affairs Canada will be leading, whose main theme is the future of commemoration in Canada.
And today we are joined by three historians from the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa: Dr. Andrew Burtch is the post-1945 historian, dealing with the Cold War and modern conflicts; Dr. Mélanie Morin-Pelletier is the historian who explores war and its impacts on society; and Dr. Tim Cook is the acting director of research.

Our three panelists have written books and articles, and organized exhibitions exploring a wide range of topics involving Canada’s military history, including commemoration and remembrance.

And we’ve put together a series of questions for our panel of historians, and we’ve also received some questions from our viewers who submitted them upon registration for this virtual panel. We haven’t been able to include all the questions, but we will keep them for potential use in future panel discussions. So to get started, I’ll ask the panel to talk about commemoration and remembrance. What are these acts, and why do we engage in them. Dr. Burtch, Andrew, perhaps, you could lead us off?

Dr. Andrew Burtch (5:01)

Thank you Shannon and thank you also to everyone who’s joining us from across the country. I think it’s important to remember that commemoration and remembrance are two linked activities. But at the same time, they are different things. They are looking at, sometimes, common objectives. So commemorations are, of course, those people, places and events in history that people collectively try to recognize, to determine what it is that matters and defines the values and lessons that can be drawn from history, that they want present and future generations to understand, emulate or avoid while also trying to keep that connection with the past. So, we can commemorate, and celebrate, as was mentioned earlier, certain events that we can clearly recognize as victories, such as the Battle of the Atlantic, 75 years on the end of the Second World War with its various stages through the D-Day, the Sicily landings, through the Korean War, the Battle of Kapyong, these are subjects of commemorations in part, because they are chosen to reflect on the collective efforts of those to led to victory. And people use commemoration for different ends: within regiments, it’s to preserve tradition and victories, and pass accomplishments in the public at-large, just to recognize those collective efforts of Canada at war. But when we look at commemoration, we’re not just looking at celebration. The Canadian government, through it’s commemorative programs, public and communities also look at those things we don’t wish to repeat, so we commemorate injustice, we commemorate things such as the internment of enemy aliens during the First World War, the relocation and forced evacuation of Japanese-Canadians from the West Coast during the Second World War, the horrors of the residential schools system and the trauma inflicted on Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. And more recently, events such as the purge of LGBTQ Veterans and civil service personnel from government as result of their sexuality during the Cold War and after. So commemoration, be it about victory or about past events is a choice about what to remember and why. And those choices change over time and cast a wider net over whose efforts to remember, whose service perhaps is overlooked, when we think about Veterans, we look more closely at the Merchant mariners during the Battle of the Atlantic. So essentially, it’s a conscious collective effort about what matters to Canadians. Remembrance too has feature about, you know, choosing what matters and what to remember and it has helped to shape Canada today, and it emerges as we recognize it today, from the trauma of the First World War. So it is in one respect the commemorative event, we are recognizing the loss of life over a century and more, but it is not abstract, many in this country have lost their loved one to war, over the past century. It’s a public act of grieving and recognizing that where we are now is in part because of those that were left behind, who fell on battlefields near and far. So who we remember also changes as time goes on, and we get a better comprehension of the cost of securing Canada, and I can go into a little bit more detail about that later.

Shannon Hartigan (8:18)

Thank you and Dr. Morin-Pelletier, Mélanie, do you have anything to add?

Dr. Mélanie Morin-Pelletier (8:25)

Yes, my colleague gave an excellent answer and I might add something to what he said about the importance of remembering that acts of commemoration are not neutral. For the “Vimy – Beyond the Battle” exhibition, we did an exercise that was very interesting. We examined hundreds of acts of commemoration that took place over the past 100 years, from one end of the country to the other. What we noticed was that during, or just after an event, for example if we look at the First and Second World Wars, it was really the families, the communities and the veterans who paid homage, who remembered the sacrifice of the soldiers who died, men and women who died during the war. You have to remember too that during the First and Second World Wars, bodies were not repatriated. So families had to find other ways of grieving. So there were all kinds of monuments put in place, commemorative objects created, ceremonies, and other things. So that was really very important during and immediately after the events. But as time passed since these events, we saw more and more that the meaning of acts of commemoration changed. So for example, in Quebec in the 1960s, with the nationalist movement in full swing and the independence movement becoming more of a reality, people built on the conscription crises, because that reflected the political and ideological movement of the times. So that’s what people are going to remember in textbooks and in newspapers. So all that to say that acts of commemoration are not neutral, and that’s why it is important to have these discussions and to think about what we are commemorating and why.

Shannon Hartigan (10:39)

Thank you very much.

We have some teachers and students watching from British Columbia and they would have asked us to explain why the poppy is a symbol of Remembrance, and why Remembrance Day is marked on November 11, at 11 am. Dr. Cook, Tim, would you like to like to field this question?

Dr. Tim Cook (11:03)

Wonderful! Wonderful that young people are watching this, is this is the dialogue we’re hoping to have and to share ideas, and to hear from you as well and that’s a great question. The poppy of course, comes from the Great War, the First World War, fought from 1914 to 1918, an incredible contribution by Canada in that war. 620,000 Canadians who served, and that was from a country of about 8 million. So about one in three adult males who served. The war itself changes Canada forever, we step out on the world stage, we are recognized by our allies and enemies there. There are symbols like the Canadian Corps, primary fighting formations, Sir Arthur Currie, our Canadian-born commander, but of course there is also the terrible loss. Some 66,000 Canadians who are killed in that war, and out of that war, emerges perhaps the most famous English language poem of the 20th century, John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” and many of you young people, I know, are memorizing it just I memorized it, and generations before memorized it. And of course, in that poem, John McCrae, who of course died during the war, talks about the poppy. The poppy has become a symbol of remembrance for Canadians, and for many in the British Commonwealth. First worn by Canadians in 1921, and then, 1922 going forward. It’s a visible sign of our desire to reflect upon that service and sacrifice. For decades, it was made by wounded Canadian Veterans, thousands and millions of poppies made by the hands of Veterans, to help one another, to help all the great deeds that the Royal Canada Legion has done over the years. So it’s a way for us to say “Lest We Forget”. It’s a way for us to wear a symbol that acknowledges around Remembrance Day, it too, emerging from the Great War, first marked in 1919 as Armistice Day, and later changed in name in 1931 to Remembrance Day. It is a chance for all of these symbols, I think, to help us reflect upon that service and sacrifice, and perhaps, bear witness to those who have given so much for our country.

Shannon Hartigan (13:26)

Thank you. And so this year, we’re focussing some of our attention on the Second World War, this year marks the 75th anniversary of that war, which was a pivotal time certainly in world history, but also in Canadian society. It brought about a lot of changes to our country. How well do you think Canada, as a whole, has done when it comes to commemorating, whether it’s officially or unofficially, this important chapter in our history? Tim, what do you think?

Dr. Tim Cook (13:59)

We could have done a better job. The incredible contributions of Canada during the Second World War are staggering: 1.1 million Canadians in uniform, including 50,000 women, three million Canadians engaged on the home front, in munitions production, or producing food, to feed Britain, defending North America, as Andrew mentioned in the opening discussion, six years in the Battle of the Atlantic to keep Britain in the war, fighting around the world in the Far East in the Pacific, in Sicily, 100,000 Canadians in the Italian Campaign, Canadians involved in air wars around the world, landings on D-Day, fighting through Normandy, clearing the Scheldt, defeating the Germans in the Rhineland, liberating the Dutch, and I can go on and on. Just staggering contributions from our country, and yet, interestingly, it is the Great War, the trauma and losses of that war that seem to dominate our memory. And those 66,000 dead who we remember from the Great War seem to overshadow the 45,000 fallen from the Second World War, not insubstantial number, of course, a tragic figure, and yet, Canada in 1945 emerged from that war as a relatively wealthy country, especially with European ruins, as the world was de-colonizing and as empires were collapsing, and we moved forward into a period of prosperity, partially because the government of the day treated the Veterans well; sent 50,000 to university, created jobs, retrained Veterans. Not all Veterans benefited from that, especially Indigenous Veterans, but for the most part, we were looking forward into the 20th century. That prosperous country, that Veterans helped to build up, that we were so lucky to inherit, but as a process we weren’t looking backwards and we didn’t do a very good job, I would argue, in building the same memorials, and same monuments, in telling our stories, through history books and films and poetry and television shows. And it took a long time for us to come to grips as a country with the incredible contributions of what we have done from 1939 to 1945 and really, the key role of Veterans in our society.

Shannon Hartigan (16:23)

Andrew, is there anything you’d like to add?

Dr. Andrew Burtch (16:27)

I don’t want to go too far in to how we’ve done in terms of commemorating Canada post-, I think Tim’s done a very good job in describing that, I think that the really interesting thing about history is that it keeps building. So in the years after 1945 we see where the line stopped in the Second World War is where you see the fault lines emerging in the Cold War, as post-war cooperation between allies faltered, as European empires abroad, in Asia and Africa collapsed and national self-determination movements took hold and conflicts arising from those. A lot of that is creating, created a new generation of Veterans, some of whom served in the Second World War and continued to serve onwards in Korea, obviously that’s one that we’ve mentioned.  Basically, emerging along the same lines that it was divided at the end of the Second World War, the United Nations involvement, the peacekeeping missions around the world, many of which are reverberations of, or unfinished business from the Second World War. And the same is true from, when the Cold War ended. A lot of the conflicts that had been held in reserve during the Cold War resulted in many of the conflicts that our contemporary generations of Veterans are now serving. Historical chapters have a way of being self-contained when we talk about them, but in practice, they have a long reverberation. It’s tempting to kind of always look in the present, and all the crisis that we have, but it’s also important, as Tim had mentioned, to look back and to take a moment of reflection to say, OK, how can we recognize this service of the Second World War and of past generations. We can’t lose sight of that.

Shannon Hartigan (18:13)

Thank you. And it is important that we not lose sight of that, certainly the First World War Veterans are no longer with us, the Second World War and Korean War Veterans are declining in number as well. How do we best continue to honour this past, looking ahead in the future, without having this living memory to draw upon? Andrew, what are your thoughts on that challenge?

Dr. Andrew Burtch (18:44)

Well, I mean, I’m heartened to think that nearly 10 years after the last Canadian Veteran of the First World War passed away, public efforts of commemoration of the First World War have grown stronger. I think it’s probably safe to say, in some respects, that the First World War is passing a bit into commemorative territory of national events, as opposed to active remembrance, but at the same time, I can’t tell you how many people have come through the War Museum, and who have come forward during a tour, or have offered some aspects of their family history and mentioned that their great-grand-father had served during the war, how it changed them and their family. Or seek that nudge to go and chase down their family history. So, I think that there is definitely, even for generations past, there is still that spark of Remembrance that is being carried forward. Now the Korean War, compared to the First and Second World Wars, is a much smaller conflict for Canada, as opposed to 1.1 million serving, we have about 30,000 or more than that, who served over the course of the war and after in the armistice, which puts kind of the scope of the Yugoslavian mission that Canada undertook in the 1990s and 2000s, obviously with a much greater loss of life owing the active war status. Korean War Veterans themselves did a lot of efforts to push for greater remembrance, along with the cohort of Veterans of the Second World War into the 1980s and 1990s and I think, by and large that objective has been achieved by their efforts. So I don’t think you can call Korea “the forgotten war” anymore. But to make sure it stays that way, well, that’s on us. So the Korean War Veterans are passing away, the Second World War veterans are fewer in numbers and that torch had been picked up by the descendants, by community partnerships, and, to a certain extent, by institutions. I think it’s very interesting to see examples of that. Over the weekend, you mentioned a group of school students from BC tuning in, I attended a virtual event with students from Charles Best in Coquitlam, who had connected with Veterans of the Korean War and interviewed them and used those interviews to spark first-person accounts or poems or biographical profiles of these Veterans of what they went through in Korea, and they call it “Intergenerational Integrity” about actively passing the torch, amid the isolation of COVID, to try to build a bridge between the past and the present through curiosity and generosity and a lot of heart. So I think there’s been a lot of resources that have been left behind by this generation of Veterans, testimonies, oral histories, the War Museum, with Historica Canada, with Veterans Affairs Canada. There is a lot of work that’s left to do in terms of preserving that history and carrying it forward, but I’m heartened that people want to know about this and believe in that mission, and I certainly do and I’m looking forward to carrying forward that mission.

Shannon Hartigan (21:41)

Thank you. How about you Tim, what would you like to add?

Dr. Tim Cook (21:45)

What is the debt? What is the debt that we owe our Veterans? I think many in Canada believe that for injured Veterans who come back, those who survived, their physical wounds that they must be treated and cared for and I think now, we have a much greater understanding of invisible wounds and post-traumatic stress disorders and stress injuries as well. But there’s another element to that debt. And it is the debt of Remembrance. It is the debt of reflection upon what these Canadians have done, and I think, as Andrew has rightly said, we are moving into a period where we are losing our war Veterans and our Korean War Veterans. Of the 1.1 million Veterans who served in the Second World War, as I mentioned before, 45,000 fell during the war. But the time has taken from and now we’re down to fewer than 30,000. And they’re all over the age of 95 and 97. At the War Museum, where all three of us work, which have great honour to work, we’ve had a chance to talk to Veterans, in my case for the last 20 years that I’ve been working there, it’s always the highlight of my day. The Second World War generation that has largely moved on, now the Korean War, those Veterans of the Cold War, hundreds of thousands, those Veterans of peacekeeping missions and peacemaking operations, and now of Afghanistan. It really is incumbent upon us, as Andrew has said, it’s on us to carry forward these stories, to make sure that we teach the next generation, and that’s something that’s absolutely crucial, to both capture the stories before they’re lost, but also to find ways to share them with those who will be carrying our history forward.

Shannon Hartigan (23:38)

Thank you Tim, and I want to acknowledge a question, one of our viewers from Welland, Ontario asked for some ideas on specific things we can do to help keep the Second World War from disappearing from the thoughts of our younger generations, and I know you’ve kind of touched on that a bit, Tim, but is there more you’d like to say about things that we can do to keep that memory?

Dr. Tim Cook (24:04)

Yeah, and I want to let a space for maybe Mélanie to jump in here too, but I think that I see tremendous things with our teachers. I’m often asked around Remembrance Day, “How do we teach young people?” and I see great things happening in our schools, I see that teachers are aware of the importance of Remembrance Day, various means to connect to the past. One of the really exciting programs that I’ve heard of is looking at the names of fallen soldiers and service personnel on local cenotaphs. And tracking down who those people were. They came from your community, and of course, in every city, every town, every village across our country, there is a memorial to the fallen of the First World War, the Second World War, Korea and now, increasingly in more recent conflicts. You can access those personnel files at the National Archives, now Library and Archives Canada, and that to me is a powerful means to make a connection. Myself, I’ve been very lucky to go overseas many times to see the cemeteries there, to see the young people who are buried there, who never had a future, who served and lost their lives. Andrew has mentioned an oral history program that we have at the Canadian War Museum and there are many other museums and archives that engage in this, so I think those are some tangible ideas there, but I know that Mélanie has been working on a key project at the War Museum that I think she’d probably like to share.

Shannon Hartigan (25:40)

Sure, well over to you Mélanie, we know that one of your roles at the Canadian War Museum is to explore the impact of war on society; how should we approach commemoration-related subjects with young people? And in fact, one of our viewers in Saint John, New Brunswick, is interested in that exact issue, the matter of passing the torch of remembrance to future generations. What do you think?

Dr. Mélanie Morin-Pelletier (26:13)

This is actually very important to us at the War Museum, and we’ve been thinking about this issue for years. I think that it is really important, if we have the opportunity to create concrete experiences, to build bridges between the past and the experiences of young people, teenagers— that makes a very big difference. Ideally, we would take them all to visit battlefields, overseas monuments, to see the cemeteries . . . it’s truly a formative experience. But unfortunately, in the meantime, there are still some very worthwhile things we can do in the current situation. As the mother of a school-aged child myself, I had the opportunity to take part several times over the years in ceremonies held in the schools. The work done by the teachers is truly incredible, especially during the pandemic . . . we should recognize their efforts, absolutely. But, so, what I found to be very powerful, is when we have the opportunity to involve, for example, students’ parents and grandparents who are serving or who have served overseas. When the students have the opportunity to talk to them, to hear about their experiences, it’s very, very enriching. So that is something that can be done even virtually during the pandemic. What is great as well, is that children whose parents serve can also talk about this with their classmates, because that really unites them. It makes events feel less far away. Children can see that these events affect families like their own. So that is very meaningful and that can be done in the classroom, even virtually at home. I would also like to mention that, at the War Museum, for several years now, we have had Discovery Boxes, as part of the Supply Line project. Teachers can go on our website for more information. So there are Discovery Boxes for the First World War and, very recently, for the Second World War, and teachers who are working in the classroom or at home can order these boxes. There are personal stories, there are items from that particular time period, that students can touch. It is really great because this makes the idea of war very tangible; the students read the stories of the young men and women, and even of the children who experienced war, from one end of the country to the other, and they also see the impact that war could have had on families. So that’s something that I suggest to teachers, that if this interests them they can go to https://www.warmuseum.ca/. And, really recently, at the end of October, we put a brand new Remembrance Day module online and again, teachers and even parents who are currently teaching at home have the opportunity to look at some 40 artifacts with their children, to read personal stories. I think that this is really interesting but also very important right now, during the pandemic, because children are being bombarded with information that is not always correct. But with this, we give you the opportunity to discuss stories and objects, and to equip your children with tools to develop their critical thinking. I think that this is more important than ever. Another great thing, and I’ll end on this, is that in this Remembrance Day module, we present scenarios that let you create your own remembrance ceremony, either at home, or in the classroom; so that is something really engaging, that we have a complete scenario. I hope that this will be a tool that helps teachers create, and gives them material and helps them design ceremonies and enriching experiences with their students this year, which is different from other years, certainly.

Shannon Hartigan (31:33)

Thank you Mélanie. It’s interesting, Mélanie talked about creative tools and resources to help people learn about war and Andrew, you’ve created a digital map of Canada’s Korean War fallen. Can you tell us about that and what motivated you to do this?

Dr. Andrew Burtch (31:57)

Yes, of course! One of my duties at the War Museum is of course to look at Canada’s post-1945 history, and having done several exhibitions and projects concerning the Korean War. We know from the Books of Remembrance that are housed in the Memorial Hall at the Parliament of Canada, one of those Books deals with Korea. There’s 516 names in that Book. We know through the histories and the war diaries that have been written, of that number, a fair proportion, more than half, 312, were either killed in action, died of wounds, or are missing, presumed dead in the aftermath of raids and patrols during the war. The remainder, about 204, have died of other causes, those are not as well elaborated. So this began as a means for me to try to connect with and build on those numbers and try to populate them and get a better understanding of what happened to each of these 516 people who volunteered for the Canadian conflict in Korea, in the Navy, in the Air Force and the Army. To be able to determine how they passed away, so I accessed the service files with cooperation from the personnel at Library and Archives Canada, I was able to build kind of biographical sheets of each individual to get a better sense of where they were born, where they served, what level of education they had, what were their jobs before enlisting, and what was the cause of death and the circumstances surrounding it. So we see accidental deaths and those who died by suicide, unfortunately, those who were subject to illness during the war and afterwards. And so, through reviewing the files, I also found coordinates in many cases and grave references and locations where those individuals died, in field hospitals, in forward positions, back home in civilian hospitals. So I thought it would be interesting to try to make a connection because a lot of people at the time did not know where Korea was or find it hard to identify with numbered hills like Hill 187, Hill 355, even Kapyong are a little hard to visualise. So to create a map to be able to find out where each of these men were born, where they enlisted, what their address was on enlistment, kind of where they lived when they made that choice, and also where they fell, as a way to try to communicate visually the cost of the Korean War, in a way that, hopefully, will connect with people, so they can understand more about the choices that people have made and the cost and the death of Canadians who served in Korea and didn’t return. So that’s the project, it’s available online, it’s publicly sourced, if you look “Canada’s Korea War Dead” map you’ll be able to find it. We have some plans about how to enhance that, it’s kind of Beta right now, but the objective is to, for people, to be able to visualize that loss and also the fact that people from across Canada and indeed from across the world from where they were born, made up that force that went to Korea to restore stability during the Korean War.

Shannon Hartigan (35:21)

Thank you Andrew. It’s so important and challenging to make the fallen “real” again today, to remember them and make these abstract numbers more concrete through the map. And Tim, you’ve written about Vimy, and how Canadians travelling overseas would often visit the memorials or cemeteries where Canadians are buried, can you tell us about this and the importance of that?

Dr. Tim Cook (35:56)

Just to follow-up on what Andrew said, I think a lot of Canadians, it’s not easy to get to South Korea, as he was saying, his map, last time I talked to Andrew, he had more that 50,000 visits to his map, so there’s a great desire out there to know our history, to understand where Canadians have served around the world and Andrew really done a key project. For me, as a historian of the First World War and the Second World War, I’ve been drawn back to the battlefields of Europe, and to Italy. It’s not as easy to get to Italy, but, you know, Western Europe is a very powerful place for Canadians. We think of the 620,000 Canadians who served in the First World War, 1.1 million in the Second World War. Many of them served on the Western front, the various Western fronts and these are real places of power of history. They draw us back as Canadians, and there are millions and millions of Canadians across this country that have a genealogical or a family link to someone who served in the two world wars. For me, Vimy has always been a very powerful place, I first visited it when I was 17 years old, my parents took me there. I wasn’t much interested in history at that point in my life, but at Vimy, I was physically moved, to stand there at that powerful memorial, first unveiled in 1936, Walter Allward who designed it, the figures who are there, Mother Canada who grieves for her fallen sons, the engraved names of 11,285 Canadians with no known graves, just in France, to run your hands over those names, to me is one of the most powerful acts of bearing witness to service and sacrifice that is ever happened to me. And of course there are the silent cities, the cemeteries across the Western front. They too, you walk them, you contemplate, you reflect upon what motivated these young men and occasionally young women to serve, what might have been for them and their families, if they had been able to come home. It is a powerful draw for Canadians. I would say, just to return to Vimy, and also Beaumont-Hamel, where Newfoundland played such a key role, at the Battle of the Somme that these are silent sanctuaries, these are Canadian ambassadors in stone and marble. They are places of grief, of pride, of sorrow, of history, one never feels so Canadian when standing at Vimy. It is not a place where I think one need think of glorious history, although there is enough courage and bravery to make anyone weep with what happened at Vimy Ridge. Vimy as a symbol for the Canadian war effort. But they are also a reminder, not just to Canadians, but to Europeans, of what Canadians have done in the past. To bring and to fight for freedom and the liberal ideas that motivated them, and we should not forget that, and Vimy plays a key role there. As I come back to my answer earlier about the Second World War, for decades and decades, we never built any memorials. At Juno Beach, or Dieppe or other battlefields. And we missed an opportunity there. Since 2003, there is the Juno Beach Centre and yet I wonder if we’re talking today about the history and the future of commemoration, what would we do for our Cold War conflicts, for peacekeeping operations, for Afghanistan. These are some of the questions we don’t have time to give an answer today, but it’s maybe something worth grappling with and thinking about each of us and what is the duty and what is the debt of remembrance that we as a country, that we as Canadians should carry out for those who served, those who fell and those who have returned home.

Shannon Hartigan (40:12)

Well, and actually Tim, I think that we owe it to ourselves to spend a couple of minutes to begin the talk about that. How will we, how must we remember the hundreds of thousands of Canadian Armed Forces, or commemorate, or recognize the Canadian Armed Forces members who have been serving to protect peace and freedom here in Canada, certainly in multilateral peacekeeping efforts, humanitarian efforts, the wars in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan, we must focus our commemorative attention on these efforts and so, perhaps I’ll start with you Andrew, what are your thoughts on how best we can be honouring the sacrifices and achievements of these modern-era service men and women. And actually, a teacher in Surrey, BC has asked about peacekeepers in particular and how we can be understanding their day to day experience and how to honour what they have done. Over to you, Andrew!

Dr. Andrew Burtch (41:20)

Well, I think our starting point should be first, when we talk about recognizing the service of those contemporary Veterans, is to first make sure that those who served in these conflicts, whether they are peacekeeping missions from the Cold War period, Afghanistan, present day, people who served in Canada and abroad, is to make sure they are supported, so that when they leave military service, they take off the uniform, they can continue a long life as generations before them have done, and give them the chance to pass on to their family members about what they did. Much this took place generations before but that key element of support and compassion has to be first and foremost especially as we know during some of these peacekeeping missions in the 1990s and former Yugoslavia, for example, the full effect and impact of what it is that was witnessed during these missions doesn’t come apparent in some cases for a decade or more later. So, there’s a long active, a long period in which people come to term with their service and that can take place in uniform or outside of uniform. So supporting them well while they make that transition is of course very important. When we talk about remembrance, it’s definitely part of the debt that’s owed. I think it’s also worth recognizing that, when it comes to peacekeeping service, Cold War service, Afghanistan, present-day service, the Veterans themselves have had a very important role to play in working towards a better agenda for remembrance and recognition. They are many times at the vanguard of moving forward and informing the public about what their service meant to the country. We see that in the rededication of the National War Memorial in Ottawa which was a joint effort between Second World War and Korean War Veterans in the 1980s and at the end of the Afghanistan mission in 2014, Canada’s contribution to that mission ended, that the National War Memorial was again rededicated to recognize Canada’s service in Afghanistan. So it happened at the end of the mission as opposed to almost thirty years afterwards as was the case in Korea. So there’s definitely been some progress there, however we should first and foremost recognize that the memory of those missions is being kept alive first and foremost among the brothers and sisters in arms as they get together and discuss and reminisce and connect with each other in uniform and out of uniform. And it enters the public sphere from there and it enters the history books from there. I think that over my time at the War Museum, I attended, I had the privilege of being invited to certain events where important moments in the history of regiments or history of Canadian peacekeeping or other missions has been recognized by those Veterans. I was at a reunion of the Canadian Airborne Regiment in 2008 or thereabouts. Many of whom were there or had served in pivotal missions in 1974 in Cyprus, when the mission, there was a Turkish intervention on the island and the response to some unrest that resulted in an active warzone breaking out where previously there’s been a relatively peaceful peacekeeping mission, with all sorts of changes to day to day tempo of operations and a lot of valour that was shown in securing sites and making sure that the loss of life was minimal and the UN mandate was respected. But that’s a story that was known first and foremost within the regiment and within the military. Only now we’re starting to get a little bit more of recognition as we head towards the anniversary of that event in a few years’ time. I was also present at a reunion in 2016 of members of the Royal Canadian Regiment reminiscing about the Operation Medusa mission, in Petawawa, where, many still in uniform, some out of uniform got together to reflect on what they had gone through 10 years earlier in the Battle of Panjwaii, and the stories they tell to each other in the mess hall, some of them not fit for publication, but some of them will end up being part of that national story. But that’s only gonna happen to those willing to listen. So part of the focus when we talk about the future of commemoration should be to ask and connect with Veterans themselves, to go to where they are, commemorating, perhaps privately, and that’s already been done, not only in personnel and mess hall, but increasingly in the public sphere through Facebook groups, through places where people are able to get together digitally and share photographs, share stories. It is important for us to listen and to try to take in some of those lessons and build the bridge between these isolated communities of Veterans perhaps online, and the various Veterans Associations that are advocating for their causes, and to build these bridges to create a map of remembrance, what it means for contemporary service in the post-war period, particularly in the post-Cold War period. I think most Canadians would be floored to learn that nearly 1,000 Canadian aircrew died in accidents and in problems over the course of the Cold War. Although we can see through more recent events such as the crash of Stalker 22, the Cyclone in the Mediterranean on NATO operations where we lost six Canadian Armed Forces members, and the outpouring of grief that took place over social media. As the remains were located and repatriated and flown back to Trenton, there’s definitely that connection. I think that the choice of the Silver Cross Mother this year, Debbie Sullivan, whose son, Lieutenant Chris Saunders was lost in the 2004 Chicoutimi fire, HMCS Chicoutimi fire, is a reminder of the cost of service, even during so-called peacetime. There is a greater reflection, I think, out there. So it’s our responsibility to learn and support the Veterans, to learn from them, but also determine the best way for the broadest possible audience to learn from them and that’s partly on us at the War Museum, it’s on communities, but in some cases, that’s not gonna be a memorial, or a statue. It could be a change to curriculum. It could mean greater collaborative efforts through novel means such as the platforms offered by social media. It is really impossible to know what the future will hold in terms of  commemorative efforts, what statue will be built, by whom, because it’s not always governments that builds them, it’s often private associations that become sites of remembrance, become sites of meaning. But it’s very clear that a plurality of Canadians across the country, not just those in uniform or recently out of uniform, or ordinary Canadians want to learn more about their military past, to honour it, sometimes to question it, and that’s just the way history is, and that’s our job as public history professionals to ensure that we continue to explore that.

Shannon Hartigan (48:37)

Thank you Andrew. I would add that Veterans Affairs Canada also has a role to play in helping gather those stories and share them with Canadians. I think we will be working together to ensure that happens over the years to come. I’m mindful of the time, we still have about 10 minutes left and we have a couple of questions from our viewers out there in Canada. One educator in Saskatchewan has asked us, has remarked that teachers have had to adjust to COVID-19 with more and more online and distance learning and I’ll direct this question to Mélanie. How can we modify the traditional Remembrance ceremonies in order to address today’s reality and the increase in virtual activities?

Dr. Mélanie Morin-Pelletier (49:20)

Thank you, that is a very good question. This year, a number of ceremonies will be taking place online, so that is definitely an advantage for teachers, parents and anyone who wants to watch the ceremonies. So at the War Museum for example, there will be an online ceremony on November 11. With respect to teachers, in my earlier comments I spoke a bit about what we’ve developed in recent years and also as I mentioned, something that is brand new for Remembrance Day, that was put online at the end of October, the Remembrance module, and that module lets teachers . . . there are scenarios to create Remembrance Day ceremonies, so I think it could be worthwhile, either with class bubbles at school, or at home with children or even for teachers who are teaching online, to create these ceremonies with their students. The War Museum’s second very important offering, and I think I mentioned it a bit earlier as well, is the Supply Line; so I encourage teachers from all across Canada, whether you’re teaching in the classroom or at home, to go to our website to find the form. That way you can reserve our First World War or Second World War boxes online and they will be sent to you, and it’s all free. There are a number of . . . dozens of boxes that are available and they will be sent to you free of charge so I encourage you to go to our website, www.warmuseum.cawww.museedelaguerre.ca. So I hope that will help teachers this year because I admit, this is a much more difficult situation than usual, but I think that it is really important, in times of national crisis, to discuss other national crises and how we got through them, with young people; this is an important time and we have to continue nevertheless to recognize Remembrance Day, and other difficult times that we have experienced as a country.

Shannon Hartigan (52:21)

I’ll take the opportunity to put a plug to for Veterans Affairs Canada's learning resources on veterans.gc.ca, we have a “home learning corner” and a an array of videos and tools to help folks learn or just engage in remembrance so I'll jump to another question. A viewer has noted that Indigenous women have served for many years in the military yet have gotten little recognition or there's little historical information made available about them. How can we help youth and the general public learn more about different groups of Canadians who have contributed to Canada's military efforts over the years especially under-represented groups like women and Indigenous people. Maybe Andrew you could start us off.

Dr. Andrew Burtch (53:14)

Certainly. Mélanie made mention of the supply line Discovery boxes, which are available through the War Museum’s website. A lot of the online resources connected to those Discovery boxes contain a lot of information about some of the people from different communities across the country who, Black Canadians, Asian Canadians, women in uniform. One of the women that’s featured in the Second World War supply line discovery box is Leading Aircraftwoman Margaret LaBillois, who is of a Mi’kmaq community. She had enlisted first to become a medic and ended up being a photo reconnaissance specialist during the war, and after the war, became very much a leader in Veterans community, First Nations Veterans community in her home community. These resources are available, it does take a little while to look at them because, for a large part of Canadian history, there’s been a tense relationship in some cases with the service of Indigenous Canadians and recognizing both in-service and after service, their endeavours. So we just past yesterday, it was National Indigenous Veterans Day. We hosted a webinar yesterday, we were talking to a Veteran who went through the whole history of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples, and Indigenous Peoples service in the First World War and the Second World War. There’s lot of amazing stories of service that come out of those wars, Tommy Prince, from both the Second World War and Korea is often an example that’s cited, but these examples of heroism in service took place against the backdrop where their service was not always welcome, that there was not always the level of embrace of Canada’s diversity, and active policies discouraging either the service of Indigenous Canadians or people of colour from serving in the Armed Forces. Policies that were later rescinded during wartime emergency and it took some time for the informal restrictions to lift, but there’s also the longer efforts to ensure the proper recognition and compensation for their service was respected, and that was the work generations of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples to get the same benefits as those other Canadians who served, given the complexities of the Indian Act, to ensure they were given the same rights. I mean, more than 10,000 Indigenous Canadians served  in the Canadian Armed Forces throughout the years, the numbers are harder to estimate but certainly, we see in the current Defense policy that’s out that there’s a very active interest in enhancing the diversity of the Armed Forces to embrace the full strengths of Canada. Those people who did serve and to distinguish themselves were the vanguard of those people, vanguard of those who could have serve and perhaps were discouraged and we lost that potential so it’s important as we go forward we pay attention to and we enhance the potential of all those who wish to serve and remember those who did, as much as we discussed earlier.

Shannon Hartigan (57:05)

Thank you. Mélanie, do you want to add something? Yes.

Dr. Mélanie Morin-Pelletier (57:25)

Yes, absolutely, for my part, I would add the history of women military members; my colleague spoke about it, but I would like to mention that we must not forget that women have been part of Canadian military campaigns since the 1800s. I’m referring to the Northwest Campaign in 1885, for example, or the South African War; and there were thousands of military nurses who served during both World Wars, more than 50,000 Canadian women served during the Second World War and so on. I understand where the person who asked us why we know so little about their history is coming from; it’s actually one of the reasons that led me to this field of study. I can only hope that over the past 30-odd years we have started to fill in this historiographical gap. We have to understand that this reflects the history of women in general too. That it reflects the historiographical trend, socio-military history. So what I have seen in recent years as a female war and society historian, one of my first goals is to give voice to these people who, traditionally, did not have one in military history or social history. I believe that this is a very important goal for my other colleagues at the War Museum and for many historians today. I really do have confidence that we are moving toward a Canadian history that is increasingly inclusive.

Shannon Hartigan (59:15)

Thank you very much. And unfortunately we have reached the end of our time together, our first panel on the past and future of commemoration in Canada. I would very sincerely like to thank Mélanie, Andrew and Tim for having joined us today to share their very important and interesting perspectives, and their expertise as well.

And I hope our viewers will tune in to us again when we have our next series of panels as we continue to explore important themes surrounding Remembrance in our country. We’ll let you know when the next one is taking place. Thank you very much.

Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) makes this calendar available as a service to the public. It includes events hosted by VAC, stakeholders and other organizations. VAC can therefore not confirm the accuracy, currency or reliability of all the information provided.

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30th Anniversary of the end of the Gulf War

28 February 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the end of the Gulf War.


Second World War Tribute Program

The Second World War Tribute program honours the sacrifices and achievements of Canada’s Second World War Veterans.


Financial assistance for Veterans travelling to events

A travel subsidy of up to $2,000 CDN is available to Canadian or Allied Veterans living in Canada who plan to attend official 75th anniversary events.


Significant commemorative events

Find information on recurring commemorative milestone days, weeks and other events.


Commemorative Partnership Program

The Commemorative Partnership Program (CPP) provides funding to organizations undertaking remembrance initiatives.


Candlelight Tribute Ceremony

Candlelight ceremonies began in the Netherlands to honour those who liberated the country from German occupation during the Second World War.


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