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How Do Canadians Remember World War II 75 Years Afterward?

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Although this yr was the 75th anniversary of the tip of World War II, the pandemic diminished the nationwide Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa. Instead of hundreds of individuals filling the streets round Confederation Square, just a few hundred folks got here and stood or sat socially distanced across the National War Memorial.

As all the time, World War I loomed giant over the occasion, offering many of the ceremony’s symbolism, notably the poppies in folks’s lapels and, this yr, on masks. The National War Memorial, the place the ceremony takes place yearly, is decidedly a memorial to that earlier warfare.

Given that multiple million Canadians and Newfoundlanders served within the army throughout World War II and greater than 44,000 died — at a time when Canada had a inhabitants of simply 12 million — the continued dominance of World War I in how the nation commemorates its warfare useless is placing. Tim Cook, a historian on the Canadian War Museum and creator of eight books about Canada at warfare, has made how the nation remembers World War II the topic of his newest ebook, “The Fight for History.”

Broadly talking, Dr. Cook’s remark is that this: Despite its toll and its crucial function in reworking Canada’s society and economic system, World War II quickly light from Canada’s collective reminiscence. Then, till just lately, when it did bubble up within the consciousness of the nation, the eye tended to be directed to defeats, just like the seize of Canadians defending Hong Kong, or disgraces, just like the internment of Japanese-Canadians.

Dr. Cook advised me this week that World War I continued to dominate for a number of causes, chief amongst them the mythology across the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

“Many Canadians talk about Vimy as the birth of the nation, although I argued in my book about Vimy that wasn’t true,” stated Dr. Cook who, like many different historians, has stated that the whereas the battle was essential it was solely considered one of many important occasions in a warfare that was transformative for Canada.

World War I definitely had a devastating impact on Canada, and in response warfare memorials quickly rose up throughout the nation to commemorate the useless. The finish of that warfare additionally coincided with the Spanish flu epidemic, an occasion that resonates all too nicely in the present day.

The finish of World War II, against this, kicked off a buoyant interval in Canadian historical past. Rather than mourn, many Canadians wished to maneuver on.

“We treated our veterans well when they came home in 1945,” Dr. Cook advised me. “Really forward-thinking legislation and programs helped veterans reintegrate.”

That match the nationwide temper.

“A modern Canada emerges out of the Second War,” Dr. Cook stated. “We’re looking forward to a prosperous 20th century. A casualty of that prosperity is reflecting upon the service and sacrifice during the war.”

With comparatively little fuss, veterans accepted that the symbols of World War I remembrance, just like the poppy, would even be used for individuals who died within the Second War.

Instead of constructing extra monuments, nevertheless, Canadian governments went for what had been typically referred to as dwelling memorials: civic buildings or amenities devoted to the reminiscence of the useless. Until studying Dr. Cook’s new ebook, nevertheless, I didn’t know that the Royal Canadian Legion and different teams pushed again in opposition to that method and demanded, amongst different issues, a nationwide monument dedicated to World War II in Ottawa close to the place the National Gallery of Canada now stands.

“The Legion and other groups said that these memorials are fine and good but they’re not sacred spaces. You’re not standing in the memorial, tennis court or hockey arena bearing witness to the fallen,” Dr. Cook stated. “History bears out the Legion. Within 20, 30, 40 years, most of those memorials were knocked down or we just lost the sense of what the memorial was supposed to remind us.”

It took till 1982 for the dates of World War II to be placed on the National War Memorial, and no World War II monuments to Canadians have been erected at abroad battlefields, in contrast to for World War I.

The 1980s had been a time, Dr. Cook stated, when after many years of fading away, World War II started to once more make its mark on the nationwide consciousness. But not in a celebratory means.

During that decade, former members of the Merchant Navy efficiently fought to be acknowledged as veterans, and the Hong Kong veterans battled for correct pensions, recognition of their struggling and an official apology from Japan. The horrible story of Japanese-Canadians lastly obtained widespread recognition.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the National Film Board of Canada and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation produced a significant collection in regards to the warfare, “The Valour and the Horror.” But the collection was extensively criticized for blurring the strains between historical past and drama. Dr. Cook stated its method shocked veterans.

“What so infuriated the veterans was that after decades of feeling they had been ignored, that when finally the National Film Board and the CBC returned to the war, they focus again on defeat and disgrace,” he stated.

Dr. Cook acknowledged that many veterans of World War II wished to simply go away it and its tales behind. My father, Ronald B. Austen Jr., was definitely amongst them. When I used to be a boy we assembled and painted plastic fashions of the Royal Canadian Air Force bombers he flew, and crashed in, as a navigator. But he spoke little or no of that point aside from to complain about an extra of brussels sprouts in his food regimen whereas stationed in England.

But my father did go to Ottawa for the 50th anniversary commemorations in 1995, the yr earlier than his demise. Dr. Cook stated that the massive variety of veterans who returned to Europe that yr, notably the Netherlands, the place Canada’s function because the liberator nonetheless looms giant, introduced steadiness to Canada’s evaluation of the warfare.

“I think we are doing a better job now, although sadly it’s come as we lose most of our veterans,” he stated.


Catherine Porter, my colleague in Toronto, has a follow-up:

This week introduced a uncommon case of a migrant employee taking up his employer at a provincial labor board and profitable.

We advised you final month about Luis Gabriel Flores Flores — he’s a Mexican migrant employee who was flown to Canada in April to assist safe the nation’s meals provide through the pandemic. Almost 40 p.c of staff on fruit and vegetable farms in Canada are migrant farm staff.

He went to a large fruit and vegetable farm, Scotlynn Sweetpac Growers close to Simcoe, Ontario. A month later, some 200 Mexican staff at Scotlynn got here down with Covid-19, together with Mr. Flores. One of his co-workers, Juan Lopez Chaparro, died from the illness.  

This week, the Ontario Labor Relations Board dominated that Mr. Flores had been wrongly fired for talking out in opposition to the situations on the farm. It awarded Mr. Flores 25,000 Canadian {dollars} — together with 5,000 Canadian {dollars} for ache and struggling.

“There is finally a case that illustrates what happens to migrant workers,” stated John No, Mr. Flores’s lawyer.


A local of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the previous 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.


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