Canadian Virtual War Museum
Truly a child of the digital age, the Canadian Virtual War Museum allows anyone with a computer to access an online registry that “honour[s] and remember[s] the sacrifices of the more than 118,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders who, since Confederation, have given their lives [while] serving in uniform”.
The names of all casualties recorded in the CVWM are also inscribed in seven Books of Remembrance.
Researchers and family descendants can access the CVWM files at https://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/memorials/canadian-virtual-war-memorial.
The RCMP’s Honour Roll lists the names of those who lost their lives in the performance of operational police functions; they’re also inscribed in the RCMP Honour Roll Book. Inquiries can be emailed to email@example.com.
This is the Poppy Campaign’s 100th year
(Condensed from the Royal Canadian Legion website)
In fact, the historic significance of the poppy predates the First World War, going back as far as Napoleonic times when it was seen how lushly the “blood-red” flowers grew on soldiers’ graves in the area of Flanders, Belgium. There’s a prosaic reason, of course: the chalk soils, enriched in lime from the rubble of bombardments, allowed the popaver rhoeas to thrive; came war’s end and the lime’s eventual absorption, the poppy slowly disappeared.
It was a Canadian medical officer, Lieut.-Col. John McCrae, who forever symbolized the poppy with Flanders and the Great War. His 13-line poem, “In Flanders Fields”, written on a scrap of paper in May 1915 and later published in the British magazine Punch, has become the eulogy at Canadian Remembrance Day ceremonies.
Not so well known is that a French woman, Madame Anna Guerin who’d founded a charity to help rebuild war-devastated areas, was inspired by McCrae’s poem to craft poppies of linen to raise funds. She presented her concept to the Allied nations and at a meeting in July 1921 in Port Arthur, Ontario (now Thunder Bay), the Great War Veterans Association, precursor to the Royal Canadian Legion, adopted her poppy. Originally of cloth, now of plastic, poppies are sold every year in the two weeks leading up to Remembrance Day.
To quote the RCL: “Today, the Poppy is worn each year during the Remembrance period to honour Canada’s Fallen. The Legion also encourages the wearing of a Poppy for the funeral of a Veteran and for any commemorative event honouring Fallen Veterans. It is not inappropriate to wear a Poppy during other times to commemorate Fallen Veterans and it is an individual choice to do so, as long as it’s worn appropriately. Thanks to the millions of Canadians who wear the Legion’s lapel Poppy each November, the little red flower has never died, and the memories of those who fell in battle remain strong.”
In October 1921 Cowichan Valley Boy Scouts and Girl Guides sought Duncan City Council’s consent to sell Remembrance Day poppies on downtown streets for two days. These, explained the Cowichan Leader, were made by orphaned children in France and sold Commonwealth-wide under the auspices of the Great War Veterans Association, the proceeds going to the “alleviation of distress, as well as to help the French Children’s League”.
This required special permission from council which had recently outlawed ‘Tag Days.’
Sorry, no poppy sale as it would mean council would be breaking its own bylaw!
White remembrance crosses
For several years now during the lead-up to Remembrance Day, dedicated volunteers, many of them in their teens, have been placing white crosses on the graves of former servicemen and servicewomen at Cowichan Valley cemeteries. The Veterans’ Remembrance program has also spread to other Island communities.
Mike Bieling provides the definitive history of this phenomenally successful and popular program: “The roots of the Veterans’ Remembrance Cross placements lie in an order issued by the Royal Canadian Legion soon after its establishment in 1926, defining the appropriate form for an annual Armistice Day commemoration of deceased veterans. At that time, the program to erect cenotaph war memorials in prominent downtown locations across the country hadn’t yet begun, and a cemetery-based ceremony was called for. The practice of placing small white crosses, decorated with three lapel style poppies, flat on the graves of veterans began in Britain soon after the end of the First World War, and was picked up by the Royal Canadian Legion for its observation as well. “In most communities, cemetery-based Armistice Day services were superseded by cenotaph ceremonies as official Cross of Sacrifice monuments were set up during the late 1920s and 1930s, but they persisted in others, where families continued to want to honour veterans who had returned home and had died and were interred here, and not just the War Dead who had died and were buried in military cemeteries overseas.
“Over the years, these local events evolved into a variety of practices, with the decorated white crosses taking a number of different forms, from the original small flat crosses laid down on the grave top (as is done at St. Peter’s, Quamichan), to largish styrofoam ones on a wire stand (as is done by the Port Alberni Legion), to wooden crosses pounded into the ground (as is done in the other Cowichan Valley and Chemainus cemeteries).
“I often used to say that cross placements had been going on continuously in the Cowichan Valley — at St. Peter’s, Quamichan, at least — ever since 1926, until parish volunteer Priscilla Lowe gently corrected me with the information that she and other members had only introduced the practice there in 1992. So I have no evidence of it locally until the mid-1950s, when the Municipality of North Cowichan expanded the old Somenos Methodist Cemetery into Mountain View Cemetery and the Legion Section for veterans was established in the new grounds.
“My understanding from Jean Phillips and Ruth Chaster, the Legion volunteers with whom I worked when I got involved, is that cross placing was an activity carried out by the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Legion, and that after a number of years, the enthusiasm for it waned to the point where, for a time, a frail and elderly Alice May Kennett, the grandmother of Richard and Calvin, was seen out at Mountain View placing crosses all on her own. (She gets a cross every year for keeping things going back then.)
“In later years, Len and Jean Phillips, Ruth Chaster, Ernie Moon and other members of Legion Branch 53 became involved in having monuments placed on unmarked graves in the Legion Section, and in organizing commemorative events there, but what truly saved this Cowichan tradition was the involvement of local military cadets, in particular the Air Cadets and officers of 744 Squadron, who make, decorate, place and salute, collect up, and store the crosses every year.
“The participation of these cadets and those from the Sea Cadet and Army Corps and the St. John Ambulance Youth Brigade in remembering those who served before them, and what this act represents to veterans and their families, are what give cross placing its meaning and ensure that the practice continues every year. When the older Legion members began to worry about who would succeed them in organizing the event in future, the 744 Squadron Air Cadets took responsibility for it and have been its prime movers ever since.
“Over the past 20 years, as the WWII generation largely disappeared from our midst and Canadians saw their armed forces involved in serious military campaigns again, public support for commemorative events like the cenotaph services and cross placements has increased noticeably. I became involved in 2003, while doing a survey of veterans’ markers and inscriptions for the Old Cemeteries Society that has since expanded into the ongoing Cowichan Valley Lest We Forget Where They Lie Project, with my main contribution being the creation of a database of veterans’ names and burial locations from my findings and the bagsful of paper lists previously used, and the production of corresponding maps of veterans’ burials for the cadets to follow out in the field. As this project unfolded, we introduced the cross placements to All Saints’ in Westholme and to six cemeteries in South Cowichan, where volunteers from the community and church parishes have taken the tradition to heart and now organize it independently each year.
“As work on recording and mapping veterans’ burials in South Cowichan gradually winds up — though the task is never really ‘finished’ — our next priority will be to bring St. Ann’s, Tzouhalem churchyard back into the fold and recognize the contribution of the Indigenous Cowichan and other veterans interred there. I know that crosses were placed there back in the 1950s or 60s, as a file of yellowed lists was passed on to me by the old Legion crew, so we have a good starting point there. There are a number of smaller and family burial grounds that need to be checked out, too, so this is a project that will go on for years yet!”
Two years ago, he said that volunteers add 10-15 names to the program every year. “I know we’re nowhere near honouring everybody…Altogether, I think we’re probably marking just over 1,000 graves. Clearly, there’s a lot more veterans buried here that we may never find out about, [but] we do the best we can.”
The Veterans’ Remembrance program was suspended in 2020 because of COVID-19 but resumed last year and is a go again this year, albeit with some limitations imposed by the pandemic. Bieling’s biggest regret is the impact that restrictions have made on the participation of cadets which, he says, “is a shame because the involvement of these young people in the commemoration of those who went before them is a big part of what this activity is all about”.
For example, permission for some military cadets to participate for a second time was received too late, other than members of the St. John Young Brigade who were able to participate directly in cross placements at Mountain View and St. Mary’s cemeteries in late October. Instead, Bieling explained, “we continued with our Plan B, putting the call out to the community on the Cowichan, My Valley Facebook page, which I found has worked very well for us in the past.
“I like seeing the public more involved in our local tradition, too, and we’ll find a way to continue that part even after COVID’s a distant memory.” Two Sundays ago, the Sea Cadets participated in cross placements at All Saints’ Cemetery, Westholme, and expected to participate in late October events in South Cowichan.
Bieling is always happy to add veterans to his database. “Anybody who has a family member who has not received a cross, who deserves one, who was a member of Canada’s or Allied Armed Forces, we’ve got people from military forces, from resistance forces. It’s a pretty wide-open definition of who qualifies as a veteran and we’d like to hear about them and recognize them. [We’d like to] get a few notes on their story.”
Those wishing to add a family member to Bieling’s list can call him at 250-748-5031 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
October vigils honour soldiers who died in non-combat roles
Each Oct. 22, a memorial service is held at the Cobble Hill Cenotaph to honour Canadian soldiers who died in the line of duty other than in combat roles. This year, the event included a vertical wall containing the names of all Canadian soldiers who gave their lives in the service of their country while not in battle.
Bob Collins, a former member of the Queen’s Own Rifles and current president of the South Cowichan Community Policing Authority, began the annual vigil on Oct. 22, 2014 after Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a 24-year-old reservist from Hamilton, Ont., was shot in the back and killed that day as he stood ceremonial guard at the National War museum in Ottawa.
Just 48 hours after the attack on Cirillo, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was murdered in a hit-and-run by an Islamic extremist in Quebec.
To date, 2,470 Canadian soldiers have lost their lives in non-combat roles.
For seven years, on each Oct. 22, Collins and volunteers from the Canadian Armed Forces and cadets have stood at attention at the Cobble Hill Cenotaph at 6:28 a.m., the precise time that Cirillo was shot; their vigil ends the following day at 11 a.m. when the Canadian flag is raised.
This year, the vigil program which is supported by the Royal Canadian Legion 134 – Malahat District, included a candlelight service to honour 177 military victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
What has begun as a purely local annual memorial may achieve national status. Alistair MacGregor, MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, has introduced a private member’s bill in the House of Commons and should Bill C-292 be passed, Oct. 22 will officially commemorate the Canadian Armed Forces’ members (meaning those of all services not just the army) who have “made the ultimate sacrifice while on Canadian soil during peacetime”.