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.


The Power of the Human Spirit

October 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s a balmy Thanksgiving Saturday in Goderich, Ontario. I’m on holidays. We’ve just finished picking wild apples near my brother-in-law Jim’s house. Many family members would be gathering for dinner the next day. Life couldn’t be much better.

Yet my eyes were welling up with tears.

Joyce and I’d just toured the renowned town square where the majority of the damage occurred during the Aug. 21 tornado, which miraculously left only one human casualty. We were in the community to attend the Out of the Storm concert, an event to raise funds to support rebuilding efforts.

It will take years for the town to return to its full former splendour. I’ve always thought of it as a most charming place. Goderich was long ago dubbed the Prettiest Town in Canada by Queen Victoria.

It took just seconds to wreak havoc in this community of 8,000 residents on the shore of Lake Huron, leaving many businesses out of commission for an indefinite time and leaving numerous century-old buildings in ruins.

Lots of grand old trees were uprooted and had to be removed.

Only 45-minutes’ drive away in Ripley, my mother-in-law reported seeing only a few rain drops and a dark cloud.

Elsewhere in the path of the tornado, homes were severely damaged or destroyed.

This was the second tragedy I’ve had close contact with this year. In mid-May, a wildfire destroyed about one-third of the Town of Slave Lake, Alberta, and threatened other nearby communities, prompting response by the Grande Prairie Regional Emergency Partnership, of which I am a member.

My demeanour picked up as the music began.  Rock and roll and blues are my two favourite genres of music so while the circumstances for the concert were unfortunate I was glad to be there to support the cause.

I also couldn’t help feeling uplifted when I saw the spirit of the volunteers and the T-shirts being sold as part of fundraising efforts.

One read: FU F3, representing the resolve of residents to reconstruct in the face of Mother Nature’s devastating winds.
Another proclaimed: Twisted … Not Broken.

The concert drew thousands of locals and visitors and featured 12 hours of music with scheduled acts including the Downchild Blues Band, the Arkells, Matthew Good, Salads with Choclair, Serena Ryder and Texas Flood. The Province of Ontario is matching funds raised on a two for one basis.

There were numerous vendors, a silent auction and a children’s area.

Organizers did an incredible job in pulling the concert together in such a short time. An event of this kind would normally take months to stage.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, I couldn’t help but feel fortunate to have never faced tragedy such as what occurred in Goderich or Slave Lake first hand. I’m amazed at how the human spirit can respond in the face of adversity.
It’s inspiring how people in these two communities are picking up the pieces – literally.

During a video tribute at the concert, Mayor Delbert Shewfelt proclaimed: “We will rebuild. We will be stronger than ever.”
There is no doubt Goderich, Slave Lake and other communities struck by catastrophes will be like phoenixes rising because of the determination of people to overcome their circumstances.

One of the songs during the Downchild Blues’ set was, I’ve Got Everything I need (Almost).

With the drive behind the people of Goderich and Slave Lake, all they need is time.

A quick thanks for traditions

October 12, 2010 § 3 Comments


Thanksgiving Turkey

Image via Wikipedia


They say that if you repeat something for three consecutive years, it qualifies as a tradition.

My Aunt Verna reminded me this year that it was my seventh consecutive Thanksgiving with them since 2004.  I think that more than qualifies my visits out near Swift Current, Saskatchewan as tradition.

For a while now I’ve been trying to find my place in an ever shifting family scene.  Wherever I can find a constant, I cling to it.  As it turns out, Thanksgiving with my dad’s family is a big one.

No major holiday is ever complete without a full spread of food.  From salads, to the main course, and then onto desserts, a Peters’ table is always full and a Peters’ stomach often left bursting at the seams.  Thanksgiving is no exception.  A turkey big enough to feed a dozen or more people and still leave leftovers, followed up with ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, carrots, at least five different kinds of salads and finished with six different kinds of pies (chocolate, banana cream, pumpkin, coconut, apple and lemon meringue), yes sir, nobody at that table leaves hungry.

We always spend a large part of Saturday preparing all of the food for Sunday’s big dinner.  Vegetables are chopped, salads are made, fresh buns make their way out of the oven.

Saturday evening, my cousins and I spend making turkey hats.  We started out with just newspaper hats that we painted one year and called Thanksgiving Hats.  We’re now on our fifth generation hat and each year we expand on the concept.  One year we even had real feathers.

A large part of the weekend is also dedicated to kittens.  Being that we’re out in the country, there are a few farm cats around and there are always at least a few kittens for us to track down and play with.  It’s a wonder I haven’t come home with any yet.

When Monday morning rolls around and it’s time to think about heading home, I get in line with my cousins for a share in the leftovers first.  We take turns dishing out what’s left of the food into containers to feed us in the coming days.  I even bring my own tupperware.

Tradition gives us something to anchor ourselves to, and another piece of life that we can begin to identify with.  For that, and for the people who are a part of my traditions, I am thankful.  Because each piece becomes a building block in my life, both to build from and to build toward.

What traditions do you look forward to?  And how do they help shape your life?

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