2012 Canada's History Forum

How should the Great War be Remembered?

December 9, 2012

Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, ON

The year 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, a war that defined Canada as a modern nation. Over 600,000 Canadian men and women participated in the war: 67,000 died and 170,000 of them were wounded. In 2010, the last living Canadian veteran of the war passed on, with the First World War transitioning from a moment in living memory to one of historic legacy.

While cenotaphs in tribute to these men and women exist in virtually every city and town across the country, only two in ten Canadians say that they attend annual Remembrance Day events in their community. Classrooms devote more time to this aspect of our history than any other era, event, or subject matter.

And yet, earlier this year, the Bank of Canada focus testing for the new twenty dollar bill revealed that less than a third of participants could correctly identify the Vimy Memorial as the featured image on the currency. How then can teachers and community groups seize upon this important centennial anniversary to renew interest in, and understanding about, Canada’s role during the Great War and its historic influence in shaping our country? How can we make the distant past more relevant for Canadians?

These are some of the questions that we are hoping you will help us tackle today during our Fifth Canada’s History Forum. I want to thank each of our presenters. As always, I know the discussion and debate will be lively and thank you for your participation.

Kristine Alexander is the Elizabeth and Cecil Kent postdoctoral Fellow in history at the University of Saskatchewan. Her research into the exchange of letters between children and their fathers during the war will provide insight into family life at home throughout this period.

Timothy C. Winegard is a historian at Colorado Mesa University and the author of For King and Kanata: Canadian Indians and the First World War. He will discuss the participation of First Nations in Canada’s war effort.

Blake Seward is the 2006 Recipient of the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching, founder of The Lest We Forget Project, and co-director of the Battlefields of Europe professional development tours for teachers.

Melanie Martin of the Department of Tourism, Culture, and Recreation, Government of Newfoundland, will discuss the curriculum program and memorial projects under development in Newfoundland to commemorate their role in the Great War.

Michel l’Italien from Canadian Forces Museums and Historical Collections, Department of National Defense, author of Dans la Tourmente : Deux Hopitaux Militaires Canadiens-Français dans la France en Guerre (1915-1919). He will discuss the challenges of presenting the voice of French-Canadian soldiers.

Jonathan Vance is a professor at Western University and the author Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning and the First World War.

Barry Gough, a Canadian Naval historian, will discuss the Victoria High School Great War project. This is Canada’s oldest high schools west of Winnipeg and has over five hundred in its Great War Roll of Honour; the school has undertaken a series of commemorative projects, including Trees of Remembrance and a forthcoming book and website.

Georgiana Stanciu is the executive director of the Royal Canadian Regiment Museum in London. She spoke about the current practices in the museum field, as related to educational activities targeted towards school children of all ages. 


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