One hundred years ago this month, Europe stumbled toward a catastrophic war that killed and maimed an astonishing 37 million people. Roughly 61,000 Canadians, alone, died and another 150,000 were wounded. The Globe and Mail
reported that the Conservative government plans to spend $38 million over the next six years to commemorate this and the country's other wars — a figure that does not include the $30 million already spent celebrating the War of 1812. Among the plans is rededicating the National War Memorial in Ottawa.
A group called PeaceQuest
, however, says that although it respects the military sacrifices made by Canadians, it believes that the government should also rededicate the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. And if it won’t, then citizens should.
This poses an interesting clash of iconic images. The 92-metre Peace Tower, perhaps the country’s most recognized monument, serves as a backdrop each year to Canada Day ceremonies. The National War Memorial is the backdrop for annual Remembrance Day ceremonies, which always have a militaristic tinge to them. The Globe and Mail even quotes from a document in which the chief of Defence Staff outlines commemorative plans based on the belief that Canada’s unique identity “stems in significant part from its achievement in times of war.”
Although I have no access to Defence Department deliberations, I was able to wander into a recent meeting of PeaceQuest in an Ottawa church hall. PeaceQuest originated in Kingston, Ont. and now has a small chapter in Ottawa, with similar plans for other cities and towns. One of those involved is Jamie Swift, who works in Kingston for The Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul, and is the co-author of the book, Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety.
Swift explained that PeaceQuest is not interested in a partisan effort or the politics of opposition. Instead, it wants to provide a “counter narrative” to the government’s attempts to paint Canada as a militaristic nation. He says that PeaceQuest encourages people to look at Canada in more broad terms.
In the group meeting in Ottawa, a number of potential plans were discussed. Several, in addition to rededicating the Peace Tower, pique my interest. One is to build upon the Christmas Truce
of Dec. 24, 1914, when German soldiers in the trenches along the Western front in Belgium and France sang carols and decorated Christmas trees. Before long (and much to the chagrin of their senior officers), soldiers from both sides exchanged greetings and presents and engaged in a soccer game on no-man's land. This amounted to an informal ceasefire that — in some areas along the trenches — lasted up to a week.
The event has been memorialized in books and a video, and people at the PeaceQuest meeting talked about ways to celebrate that same spirit of peace in December 2014. So stay tuned.
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