Keeping history alive 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CLARE OGILVIE
  • Photo by Clare Ogilvie

Whistler is beginning to bristle with the anticipation of another winter season—for us, it often feels like Opening Day is really our New Year's celebration.

Social-media feeds are filled with photos of new gear, of epic days last winter and the general stoke that flows from a love of winter.

It sometimes feels like there is little room for the reflection on sacrifice and remembrance that marks this time of year in our hometown.

While a vague awareness of this has lurked on the edges of daily life here for years it was brought into stark relief during a recent vacation to Paris.

This international mecca of tourism (30 million visitors a year) feeds off its international visitors, it's true. But its double helix is based in history and conflict and reflecting on this is as much a pastime as outdoor recreation here is for us.

France is on vacation right now so museums, monuments, the city itself was full of "locals" on holiday. I'm sure many jetted off to beaches, but thousands and thousands of them were also at the same awe-inspiring venues I was.

At the top of the Arc de Triomphe, I got an impromptu history lesson about the monument—not from one of the many competent guides of the city, but from a pretty hip-looking dad out seeing the sights with his two kids aged about eight and 10 years old. Of course, we know that it honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. And, piped up the eight-year-old, beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from the First World War.

Then the 10-year-old joined in asking how big her father thought the Swastika flags Hitler flew from the Arc de Triomphe were.

One might be forgiven for thinking that this was just a rather precocious set of kids, but every museum, art installation (A Pablo Picasso exhibit was running and school-aged children with sketch books in hand almost out-numbered tourists—I kid you not) and palace visited was being enjoyed by French families sharing their culture and history and reflecting on those who gave their lives for the love of their country—and for the most part these kids were not being dragged around. They were engaged and eager to know and understand their history.

It made me ask what are we doing wrong in Canada that so little passion seems to exist for our history?

"Who cares about the fur trade?" I have heard more than once in my home!

Granted, France's history is pretty exciting, but Canada has had its moments too—the Red River Resistance, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, an invasion by the United States, the gold rushes, the Last Spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway, our brave involvement in global conflicts, and in recent history, the approval of the Canadian Bill of Rights and the passing of the Canada Act.

This is a time of year, as we get ready to remember and honour those who have given their lives for Canada or who continue to serve the nation, when our history and a reflection of it should be front and centre.

Generations cannot understand the context of their lives if they do not know the role their nation, their families and friends, and their community played over time. We need to share the stories of our grandparents and their lives, of battles won and lost, of mistakes made individually and as a country and of the often-horrific price paid for the freedom we enjoy today.

Thanks to some forward-thinking citizens (you know who you are), Whistler now has a beautiful new cenotaph location in Whistler Olympic Plaza, and for the 35th year everyone will be welcome to mark Remembrance Day starting at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 11—and we can visit it all year and remember as well.

But I know that on Nov. 11, when I stand remembering my father, a pilot in the Second World War, and the many brothers he lost in that conflict, as well as those who continue to serve today, I will also be considering how we can embrace peace globally—because a world without war is the world I want for my children, and yours.

(Editor's note: For as many years as I can remember, Brian Buchholz has organized our Remembrance Day service with the support of many in the community. His deep respect for those who serve, his passion for our nation's history and contributions have made the day deeply meaningful, and I want to personally thank him for all he has done. This year, he is passing the torch to Steve LeClair, a familiar name to many as one of Whistler's top RCMP officers. Our service is in good hands.)


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