Remembrance Day 2009 Resources

8 11 2009

War Memorial in Ottawa

The first Remembrance Day-related resource I am showcasing is Library and Archives Canada’s excellent website on the First World War. This website contains links to a host of online resources, including the database of Canadian Expeditionary Force enlistment records. This database allows people to look at the actual attestation papers signed by men at recruiting papers. (The surname search box makes it easy to look for ancestors). Each attestation paper gives the birthdate, address, next of kin, etc., of the man.

In my course on Canadian history since 1867, I ask the students to look at this attestation paper before coming to the lecture on the Great War. The paper is for a young guy from Winnipeg named Alexander Henderson Cuthbert who singed up 9 Nov 1917. I selected this paper from the database because Mr Cuthbert was pretty representative of the type of man who enlisted. He was a young, unmarried, city-dwelling, working-class immigrant from the British Isles.  I point out that farmers, francophones, married men, and people whose families had lived in Canada for many generations were massively under-represented in the Canadian military in WWI.

Many students bring their laptops to class, so I ask the students to plug Cuthbert’s address into Google Maps to get a sense of the type of neighbourhood he was from. (The Google Maps satellite view shows that his house was next to a railway, which drives home my point about social class and military recruiting).  The map also allows me to talk a little bit out the multicultural make-up of Winnipeg circa 1914 and the impact of the war on (non-British) immigrants.

The Cuthbert attestation paper usually generates a good discussion in class about why men join the military and the ways in which Old World national hatreds are imported into the western hemisphere. I usually share a personal anecdote about  going to high school in the Toronto area in the early 1990s, when the break-up of Yugoslavia set kids from different ethnic groups at odds.  I mention how some Anglo-Saxon Canadians at the time condemned the second-generation immigrants from the former Yugoslavia for bringing “Old World squabbles” into Canada.  I also point out that during the First World War, it was British immigrants who were having difficulty in severing their emotional connection to the homelands. The irony of this is not lost on my students!   As I remind my students,  in the First World War, the group most truly loyal to Canada were the French Canadians.

Wolfe, Montcalm, Remembrance Day 2009 Part II

22 09 2009

Christopher Moore has commented on my proposal that the Government of Canada invite the descendants of Wolfe and Montcalm to the 2009 Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa.

He had this to say : “Andrew’s well worth a read. But the dead of 1759 who continue to resonate for me are the townspeople killed as their houses crumbled under shellfire during the siege of Quebec, the civilians shot down in skirmishes with the British, the militia who died in their thousands during the whole of the war, even the elderly and the children who died of malnutrition and fevers during the grim winters of that struggle. And that’s not to mention the Acadians, the people of Louisbourg…  It would be too bad if our understanding of that became caught up in honouring a French and a British general — or wrangling whether to honour them. Could we not honour an unknown soldier of the Canadian War of the Conquest?”

I certainly agree with Christopher  that we should remember all those who died in that battle—my proposal to invite the descendants of the two best-known casualties is intended to raise awareness of all those of who perished, white and Native, general and privates, civilians and military.

Wolfe, Montcalm, and Remembrance Day 2009

19 09 2009
Benjamin West, The Death of General Wolfe, 1771

Benjamin West, The Death of General Wolfe, 1771

2009 marks the 250th anniversary of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, an event that is still remembered by many Canadians. I believe that we should include a prominent reference to this battle in the Remembrance Day ceremonies held this year at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

The National War Memorial, originally built to honour the memory of those who died in the First World War, has now come to represent the losses suffered in all of Canada’s wars both here in North America and overseas. Increasingly, the space around the memorial has been used to commemorate those who died in pre-Confederation conflicts rather than only those who fell in the better-known wars of the twentieth century.

War Memorial in Ottawa

War Memorial in Ottawa

In 2006, statues and busts of important figures from Canada’s pre-Confederation military history were installed around the National War Memorial. The individuals represented by these statues include: Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac; Mohawk chief Joseph Brant; Laura Secord; and Sir Isaac Brock.

Statue of Joseph Brant, National War Memorial in Ottawa

Statue of Joseph Brant, National War Memorial in Ottawa

Although these statues, known collectively as the Valiants Memorial/ Monument aux Valeureux, are fine works of art, the decision to omit any representation of the British and French commanders at the Plains of Abraham, Generals Wolfe and Montcalm, was highly unfortunate. (It would be interesting to speculate on why statues of Wolfe and Montcalm were not included. My guess is the National Capital Commission‘s fear of touching a potentially explosive political issue outweighed its interest in promoting an awareness of Canadian history).



Although it is, of course, too late to include a permanent symbolic tribute to Wolfe and Montcalm in the National War Memorial in time for this year’s Remembrance Day, there is another way we can commemorate the memories of Wolfe, Montcalm, and all those who died on the Plains of Abraham. I believe that the descendants of Generals Wolfe and de Montcalm should be invited to Ottawa to participate in this year’s ceremony as the honoured guests of the Government of Canada. Representatives of the First Nations present at the battle should also be invited to take a prominent place in this year’s ceremonies.

Andrew Wolfe Burroughs, a descendant of General Wolfe and Georges Savarin de Marestan, a descendant of General Montcalm, have participated in events related to the memory of their illustrious ancestors on numerous occasions. As a result of working together on heritage projects, Burroughs and de Marestan are now good friends. Their ability to put aside past hatreds is inspiring to all those who hope for a more peaceful world. It is fitting to highlight the Battle of the Plains of Abraham by inviting Burroughs and de Marestan to this year’s Remembrance Day ceremonies. The friendship of these two men is, in some ways, representative of the friendship that English- and French-speaking Canadians, the descendants of the two armies of 1759, now feel for each other. For 250 years, English- and French-speakers have lived together in Canada with a minimal amount of violence. In a world rent frequent by ethnic violence and civil war, the history of the relationship between Canada’s two largest linguistic groups can act as a beacon of hope in the world. The beginning of this historical relationship deserves to be commemorated on 11 November 2009.

The Government of Canada should invite Andrew Wolfe Burroughs and Georges Savarin de Marestan to participate in the 2009 Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Statues Honouring Both Wolfe and Montcalm, National Assembly Building, Quebec City

Statues Honouring Both Wolfe and Montcalm, National Assembly Building, Quebec City

All images in this post are from the Wikimedia Commons and are used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Moulin à paroles

14 09 2009

Canadian newspapers have published quite a bit about Moulin à paroles, a controversial event that took place on the Plains of Abraham this past weekend. I am interested in the controversy because of what it says about the ongoing importance of the social memory of the famous 1759 battle fought there. I have made a compilation of links to news/commentary items about the event.

Les journaux canadiens ont publie beaucoup des pièces sur le « Moulin à paroles », un événement controversé qui avait lieu sur les plaines d’Abraham à Québec la fin de semaine passés. La controverse m’intéresse parce que je suis historien du Canada. J’ai fait une compilation des liens.

English-language newspapers and websites/ journaux anglophones :

St Catherines Standard

Vancouver Sun

Journaux francophones/ French-language newspapers :

Le Devoir



La Presse Canadienne

Le Journal De Québec

Related Story :

The a group of veterans in Calgary has unveiled a statue of General James Wolfe.