Finding My Own Reasons To Remember On November 11

October 16, 2014 § 1 Comment

Remembrance Day hasn’t meant as much to me in past years as it does today. I would pay my respects at a local ceremony, wear my red poppy on my collar, observe my moment of silence for those who’ve given their lives to give me mine… I knew in my head that it was a significant day, but my only connection to why came from textbooks in school, articles I read in newspapers or magazines or stories told through TV shows or movies. It’s difficult to grasp the heart of why we remember when it wasn’t something I had experienced first hand.

This morning, my first read was from Peter Mansbridge on why he remembers on November 11th. I thought about the many sites I’ve visited during my travels this year that have caused me pause.

Paseo de los Canadienses in Malaga, Spain, a tribute to Canadian Dr Norman Bethune for the humanitarian aid he provided during the Spanish Civil War in 1937.

Paseo de los Canadienses in Malaga, Spain, a tribute to Canadian Dr Norman Bethune for the humanitarian aid he provided during the Spanish Civil War in 1937.

In May, I spent two weeks in Malaga, Spain. One day, I took a walk out along the beach and followed the path on past the city limits and along the coast. After walking about an hour I looked up to see a sign that read “Paseo de los Canadienses.” It’s a promenade in tribute to the humanitarian aid Canadian Dr Norman Bethune provided during the Spanish Civil War in 1937.

In September, I found myself in Germany. A walking tour through Hamburg brought us to what had once been an impressive cathedral, now left in ruins after it had been hit by a bomb. We also visited a chocolate factory that was once the location where the gas for the gas chambers in the Nazi camps was made.

A week later, through the vivid storytelling of my tour guide Kate with Fat City Bike Tours, I visited the Berlin Wall and the Cold War era of Berlin.

The tour took us through the division of Germany and Berlin after WWII, the tensions between East and West that lead to the creation of the Berlin Wall in 1961, many of the stories of families separated  and its unforeseen fall in 1989.

The Cold War is said to have ended in 1991. I never realized how close I came to growing up in a world entangled in another World War.

We also visited the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum, a concentration camp a short train ride outside of Berlin. It was a heavy day, retracing the footsteps of WWII prisoners, standing within feet of a gas chamber used in the last 80 years for mass murder.

Past and present, the temporary pontoon bridge in Antwerp, Belgium.

Past and present, the temporary pontoon bridge in Antwerp, Belgium.

In early October, I walked across a pontoon bridge in Antwerp with thousands of other Antwerpians. It was the 100th anniversary commemorating a pontoon bridge that was built that same weekend in 1914 to help the Belgian King and many of the city’s inhabitants escape invasion by the Germans in WWI. More than 1.5 million people fled the city–many thousands via that bridge, waiting in a lineup a lot longer than the one I was in to cross the 370 metre temporary flotation.

I imagined having to leave many of my belongings behind, not having the weeks to go through them that I had as I prepared to pack up my house and put what I wanted to keep in a storage unit.

A plaque on the backside of the Steen in Antwerp commemorating the role Canadian troops played in the liberation of Antwerp in WWII.

A plaque on the backside of the Steen in Antwerp commemorating the role Canadian troops played in the liberation of Antwerp in WWII.

Also in Antwerp, around the back of The Steen Castle, the oldest standing building in the city, I came upon a plaque commemorating the role Canadian troops played in the liberation of the city during WWII.




The plaque reads:

On 16 September 1944, 550 soldiers of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI), 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Denis Whitaker, DSO, advanced into Antwerp to prevent the enemy from destroying the port facilities. For the next three weeks the RHLI, supported by the Belgian Resistance under the command of Colonel Eugene Colson, fought a number of actions to secure the harbour’s vital equipment. Accompanied by the Resistance, the Canadians then began the advance to Woensdrecht and Zuid-Beveland (The Netherlands) as part of the overall offensive to free the approaches to Antwerp.

On 28 November 1944, a Canadian supply ship became the first vessel to steam up the river Scheldt into Antwerp harbour, bringing the essential materials that contributed significantly to the Allied victory. Of the almost 13,000 allied casualties in this campaign, 6,500 were Canadian.

4 September 1944-4 September 2004

When you turn a corner and find a tribute to one or many Canadians who’ve given their lives to impact that part of the world for the better; when you sit in a centuries-old cathedral that is nothing now but shattered walls and rubble and still wears the black marks from an exploded bomb; when you walk in the footsteps of people who only 100 years ago were fleeing a city under fire; when you encounter a wall that came down in your lifetime but you were too young to understand what was happening and what it meant at the time; or when you read the more recent headlines about the targeted attacks on Canadian Parliament and military, the reason why we remember becomes crystal clear.

I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the country in which I live, for every person who has stood up to protect the rights and freedoms that support the life I’m fortunate to lead and for the past and present roles Canadians play in protecting those rights and freedoms beyond our borders.

Lest We Forget.


A Successful Cross-Continental Search

June 9, 2014 § 2 Comments

tmavThere’s nothing quite like a series of old photographs to remind us of places we’ve been, friends we’ve been there with and the person we were ourselves at the time.

I’ve been on the road for 5 months to the day. My explorations have taken me across 9 countries and 5 continents, I still have just over a month to go before I’m home for the summer.

When I was leaving, one of my friends commented on Facebook, “I hope you find what it is you’re searching for!” I hoped so too. An epic trip like this had been my only real end goal since I came back from a 4 week trip to Italy and southern France in 2004… and now was the time to do it. I was lost.

Back in 2010, I had a moment. A moment where, like a ton of bricks, the reality of my brother’s death came crashing down on me. I’ve never had a moment that dark before (and thankfully haven’t since). In the days after that moment, I found myself reaching for my friends. Emails, messages, phone calls and notes, apologizing for being a “horrible” friend for feeling like I hadn’t been present for them in a long time. Most everyone just gave me a hug or an encouraging note back, except for two long time friends. They were hurt because they felt like they had lost a friend.

This point is only important now because I’ve been circling on our conversation a lot, trying to understand their perspective, looking through their eyes, remembering.

In these last 5 months, I’ve been clearing out a lot of lingering cobwebs like old beliefs come back for another go and nooks and crannies I hadn’t quite gotten to on my last internal sweep. But I’ve also been able to take a full step outside of my life and do a proper evaluation on what happened. My diagnosis–I suffered from a really, really, really broken-heart.

I’m on my own out here. Being on my own has given me ample time to feel, to reflect and to heal. I circled back to that conversation with those two friends to help me understand that part of me (my feeling heart) disappeared for a long time. It wasn’t lost exactly, it had just buried itself so far away from everyone that I had to go looking across continents for it.

The good news is that I found it somewhere back in Spain and today, looking back at all of my old photos and reconnecting with the person I was in them, I think I’ve convinced it to make the trek back with me this summer. I miss me and the friends and family I’ve surrounded myself with too!

I promise to keep a closer eye on it from here on in… and to let you help me by bringing it out more often!

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