Day of Remembrance 2014

I just got home from attending a Remembrance Day ceremony. I usually try to get out to one if it’s at all possible. Quite often I attend the assembly at my children’s school but this year the weather was so gorgeous I wanted to be outside. I chose to avoid the War Memorial in downtown Ottawa. I knew that it would be very crowded this year and there would be all sorts of hype surrounding it. Although I can understand why people want to remember en mass – I believe it makes them feel connected – my own preference is something more subdued. I had thought about going to the Canadian War Museum, but I figured it, too, would be insanely busy. So instead of braving the crowds, I went to the Beechwood Cemetery where the National Military Cemetery is located.


I couldn’t have made a better choice. The cemetery, although busy, was not at all crowded. In fact, even with all of the military personnel and those who came for the ceremony, the enormous cemetery managed to remain beautifully peaceful. Before the ceremony I wandered the part of the cemetery where those who fought in the two World Wars were buried. Surprisingly it was relatively empty of visitors. Most people went directly to the area where the ceremony was being held; the burial place of anyone who has served in the Canadian Armed Forces. I was happy, though, to be there alone with my thoughts and the beauty of the day. I took photos and read the inscriptions on many of the headstones. I thought about the two world wars and the many, many young people who enlisted and never came back home to be able to enjoy Canada as it is today.

The ceremony, itself, was low key but respectful. There were veterans there who were applauded upon arrival. All of the required musical pieces were played and sung. Two minutes of silence was bookended by artillery fire.There were prayers and dedications, the laying of the wreathes, and the reading of In Flanders Fields. Toward the end of the ceremony two military jets (CF-18’s?) flew over adding a bit of excitement to an otherwise reserved affair. What always amazes me is the hush that falls over such a large number of people. All you could hear during the two minutes of silence were birds singing, leaves and flags fluttering in the breeze, and the low hum of traffic beyond the cemetery boundaries. It really was, to me, the perfect Remembrance Day ceremony.


fall graves


Canadian Thanksgiving: Not much to do with the Pilgrims

mayflowerI never really thought much about the history of Thanksgiving. When I was a kid I learned about the Pilgrims and the Puritans in Plymouth, Massachusetts and I coloured pictures of the Mayflower and turkeys wearing puritan hats. I watched my mom hang corn on the door, ate a big plate of turkey, and recited what I was thankful for but I had no idea of the real facts of our history. Have you ever wondered why Canadian and American Thanksgiving are more than a month apart? Ya. Me too. Now my middle-aged self, who tends to be a little more curious about such things than my younger self, has finally looked into the history of Canadian thanksgiving. Clearly, my whole life has been a sham! I had no idea that Canadian Thanksgiving has very little to do with American Thanksgiving. Why were we never taught our own history? No idea. Maybe it’s because the Puritan hats were so cute. Maybe the story of the Mayflower was much more romantic than that of the Ayde and her 14 sister ships but really, we would do well to make our own history a little better known.

What’s the Ayde, you ask? Well, let me tell you…

frobisher faceThe first recorded formal thanksgiving on what is now Canadian land happened in 1578, long before Confederation. Back when our country was just being discovered, an explorer named Martin Frobisher, was making his third voyage on the flagship Ayde with his fleet of 15 ships from England to Greenland and then through the dangerous and icy waters up the Hudson Strait in search of the Northwest Passage. After nearly losing half the fleet, the ships finally came back together in Frobisher Bay. Frobisher had meant to make a settlement but had lost his ship, the Dennis, which was carrying the building supplies. Considering the odds against them and that they had managed to rendezvous almost unscathed, the chaplain who had traveled with them, Robert Wolfall, gave the first Anglican Eucharist on the new land in celebration and thanks for the safe delivery of the fleet.

sevenyearswarI’m not sure, however, we can truly draw a link from the Frobisher expedition to our current tradition.  It seems more likely that the tradition developed after the Seven Years War in 1763. This war encompassed a large portion of the world and was a major struggle, simply put, between the French and English (for more details on the war see here). At the end of the war, the British were victorious in taking New France. In Nova Scotia a large Thanksgiving celebration was held by the citizens of Halifax. Then, in 1799, in Lower Canada a Thanksgiving observance was held “In signal victory over our enemy and for the manifold and inestimable blessings which our Kingdoms and Provinces have received and daily continue to receive.” In the years following, Thanksgiving celebrations were held without regularity and all times of the year for various reasons – ends of wars, battles, and rebellions, the cessation of illnesses such as cholera,  and simply for God’s mercies.

Queen_Victoria_by_BassanoAmerican traditions of the feast entered Canada with the influx of Loyalist refugees after the War of 1812, which ended in 1814. Turkey, pumpkin, squash, and the bounty of the harvest began to be incorporated into the feast. However, it wasn’t until 1859 that “abundance of the harvest” was officially celebrated. Finally, after Confederation in 1867, the first Thanksgiving celebration of a united Canada was held on April 5, 1872 for the recovery of the Prince of Wales. Subsequent “abundance of the harvest” celebrations were held in the fall, usually late October and early November unless there was a significant event to do with the Royals. For example, in June 1887 thanksgiving celebrated the “50th Anniversary of Her Majesty’s accession to Throne” and in June 1896 the “Diamond Jubilee of H.M. Queen Victoria”.

After the World War I, starting in 1921 Thanksgiving was celebrated in Canada on the Monday of the week in which Armistice Day (November 11th) fell. In 1931, parliament separated Armistice Day (renamed Remembrance Day) and Thanksgiving and each year, until 1957, held Thanksgiving by proclamation usually in early October. Finally, in 1957, Parliament fixed the holiday to the second Monday in October for “…general thanksgiving to Almighty God for the blessings with which the people of Canada have been favoured”.

And here we are in 2013, nearly 500 years after Frobisher, still giving thanks for our many blessings, eating lots of turkey (thanks to our American friends), and generally enjoying the bounty of the harvest, the closeness of family, the beautiful fall colours, and the freedoms hard-fought by our ancestors. Of course, none of us would be here if it weren’t for the brave and heroic adventurers who, either on purpose or mistakenly, landed here and began the exploration of this huge uncharted land. Although our history of Thanksgiving is a lot more chaotic than the well-formed folktales of the Mayflower, it is our history to embrace. This Thanksgiving, I think I’ll raise a glass to Martin Frobisher! Who’s with me? Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thanksgiving 2013

The Canadian Encyclopedia
Canadian Heritage
A Brief History of Canada

The Battle of Crysler’s Farm

I think I have become a reenactment junky. In fact, my whole family seems to be going down that road. I’m not sure I can tell you precisely what it is that attracts us to these events. Well, actually, I think the thing that propels me the most is bringing live history to my kids. And the venues…the venues are always perfect. These are the places I like to visit anyway. Small towns with loads of history (Spencerville or Sackets Harbor) or pioneer villages (Upper Canada Village). After spending an entire day in Spencerville a few weeks ago, immersed in history, there was no going back. I really have to hand it to the re-enactors too. Boy! Do they know how to put on a show!

Yesterday, late afternoon, we went to Upper Canada Village for their version of the a War of 1812 reenactment called the Battle of Crysler’s Farm. There, there were more than double the number of participants we saw in Spencerville. They had full forces fighting for the U.S. side and for the Crown. At dusk the battle began with a cannon barrage. At the time we were eating our dinner and nearly choked on our food when the first cannon went off! After that the two sides moved onto the battlefield with muskets and the infantry battle began. It wasn’t long before the air filled with smoke from the firing muskets. It became very clear (in a smoky way) how difficult it would have been in battle back then. Not just because the muskets’ aim was very imprecise, not just because the soldiers had to wear wool in the heat and humidity of July…but because you can’t bloody well see what you’re shooting at with all that smoke!

It all ended well anyway. The Crown forces managed to move forward and keep the Americans back…true to history. It will be interesting to see how the story ends in Sackets Harbor on the American side. We will be going there in a few weeks and the kids are already excited. First because it’s their first trip to the United States, and also because they get to see yet another battle. My daughter has asked me to sew her a period dress for the event. Gulp. We’ll have to see about that.

I’ll leave you with some photos of the events from last night. Have a wonderful week.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Drive to Spencerville

Took a drive south of Ottawa yesterday to see a wonderful Heritage Fair organised by the Spencerville Mill. Re-enactors from different groups converged to recreate events and life from the time of the War of 1812. Spencerville is a beautiful little town and the day itself was full of interesting things to see and do. The re-enactors, themselves, are a wonderful group of people always willing to talk about history and to help visitors feel as though they are a part of the day not just spectators.

Enjoy the photos in this gallery. I’ll have more later in the week…detailed information on the war, the re-enactors, and scenic shots of the area. Gotta love history!

Happy Monday.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The “Ghosts of War”

As November 11th approaches, Remembrance Day here in Canada, the ravages of wars past become prominent in our consciousness. This is not to say that the memories and realities of war (both past and present) are not in our thoughts throughout the year. It is only to say our consciousness is heightened by a national day of remembrance. Canada lost many, many citizens in the two world wars – 63,322 in WWI and 46,998 in WWII – more than any other modern battle in which we were involved which is probably why our thoughts primarily focus on those wars. At least, I know that mine do. As soon as I see a Remembrance Day poppy, a black and white film-strip moves through my mind, a collage of the thousands of images of world war battles I’ve seen over the years and collected in my memory.

Stories and images of these wars, although available throughout the year from thousands of sources, seem to come to the forefront of media at this time as well. No surprise there. If we’re thinking about a particular topic we’re more likely to look at it and read about it, and if we have more to look at and read about, we’re more likely to think about it. Kind of a chicken and egg thing…But there is also a saturation point. Although it is important for the story to be told, if the same story is told only one way over and over, it loses its effect. People appreciate and even thrive on innovation. Often an old photograph shown in a new light has more power than the blurred and yellowed original. Sometimes not, though, it depends on the skill of the story-teller or photographer.

Today I was struck by such a skilled individual. I found her images so compelling and so interesting and so unique I had to share them here with you. In fact, my 9-year-old son, who has become a World War II (enthusiast is so the wrong word here)…aficionado, was also completely fascinated by the images. Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse is a Dutch historian who worked in conjunction with several photographers in different countries and various collectors of WWII photos. Teeuwisse took great effort to research and identify the places in the photos that had been collected. She or one of the other photographers then visited the locations in Europe and took modern-day photos. Using a digital photo editor, Teeuwisse showed amazing accuracy and artistry in superimposing the old over the new. She created ghostly reminders of how the past and present cannot be separated.

Have a look here at her some of her work and then visit her Flickr page if you’re interested in seeing more.

German prisoners being taken to a POW camp located on the plateau of the Mountain Roule, near the farm of Fieffe, France.
Corner Covered, Italy
Cherbourg, avenue de Paris, ancien Poste de Police, jardin Public.

“By combining historical pictures with photos made on the exact same spot today, I try to make people realize that history is all around us. That where you live, work or go to school, once people fought, died or simply experienced a different kind of life. We are history, history is us.

Originally made as part of my research, I now make these combination photos because of my interest for the subject and to try and make people think about the past, remember and respect the sacrifices the generations before us made.” ~ Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse

Sources: Ghosts of War: WWII Photos Superimposed onto Modern Street Scenes, Bored Panda and Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse’s Flickr Photostream.

Solemn Reminder: Sarajevo Memorial

Today is my son’s birthday and Easter celebrations are ramping up for the weekend. The sun is shining, spring has sprung and everyone is in a jovial mood around here. In fact, I was just about to start icing the Titanic but a glance at a friends page on Facebook hit home the realities of the world and our past.

My friend is from the city of Sarajevo. She often tells me stories of her life there, before and during the war. I’ve seen photos of its beauty and often wish I could walk the streets with her. For her, though, going back now is not the same. There are too many memories of war, death, and hard times. Not to mention that everything has changed. It looks the same, but she tells me it feels completely different. I may never know her nightmare but some days I can hear it in her voice and see it in her eyes.

Twenty years ago today, the siege on the city began and the conflict lasted for three more years. All tolled, 11,541 people lost their lives in the siege, and today, along the streets of the city a memorial has been place. The same number of red chairs as souls lost sit, row upon row, reminding us of the ravages of war. Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? Why does it never stop?

Chairs at Sarajevo

For a video account see:
Sarajevo Marks 20th Anniversary of Beginning of Siege

For us this 9 11 anniversary should be…

For us, this 9/11 anniversary should be a chance to remember the victims of the horrific crime committed in 2001 and those who died in the wars waged in its wake…. To really do justice to all the 9/11 victims, we can redouble our demands that those who misused their memory to launch illegal wars be prosecuted and jailed. We can also redouble our efforts not to let their murders be the pretext for new wars and ongoing attacks on civil liberties. That is the best way to really serve the memory of all the victims of the past decade’s carnage.

Derrick O’Keefe, Canadian Blogger (