Thursday, November 11, 2004

Remembrance Day

I have really had trouble finding a poppy pin today! I find this very discouraging. I live in the Plateau, which is considered a very french district. My school is out in Villeray which is pretty french as well (farther east and north) but also houses a lot of new immigrants. Today, I saw one person wearing a poppy.

I understand that the relationship between Quebec and the two wars is complicated. Canadian students learn about the two Conscription Crises of 1917 and 1944 where there were riots in Montréal and Quebec City. The situation was more extreme during WWI and in both cases, much of western Canada was also against conscription. But today many anglos feel that the french didn't do their fair share to contribute to the war effort. This isn't true as many french-Canadians fought and died in both wars. On the other hand, French-Canadians felt a great deal of resentment about the conscription laws, feeling that they were being forced to fight for an english cause while being treated as second-class citizens at home.

That is history and much of it is still with us today. But to continue to mix the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers with lingering resentments (and the current political situation) strikes me as dishonorable. As I have stressed here many times, the french have a lot to be resentful about and it's important not to forget the pressure of their situation. But when I see the ignorance (and even willful ignorance in some cases) about the role that soldiers have played in the formation of this nation, I lose sympathy with their cause. How can the same government that mandates "Je me souviens" on every license plate not promote Remembrance Day? How come there isn't anybody giving out poppies at the Métro here? Why isn't Canada's role in the two great wars explained to immigrants learning french at the government-sponsored programs here?

I have two strong memories about Remembrance Day. My high school was very British and almost four entire classes went overseas in World War I, most of whom were killed. We have an even longer list of students who died in World War II. For Remembrance Day, we would all march to the chapel to the moving sound of bagpipes. There, every name was read aloud. We also had readings and later, in class, discussions about the war. The notion that these men were almost our age was emphasized.

In 7th grade, in my elementary school, a box was passed around the class and kids put change that their parents had given them. Mr. Bergland explained it like this, "There are a lot of retired soldiers, they don't have a lot of money and some of what you donate can help them so they have some change in their pocket when they may need it." He jingles his change in his pocket as he told it. It was so humble but made so much sense to me at the time. Somehow, it imparted a real respect and made me rethink the way I saw the old guys who used to hang out at the Legion.

So I guess Remembrance day is an emotional and sentimental day for me due to my own cultural upbringing. Seeing the people here not treat it with respect does anger me. I guess I'm starting to see a certain selfishness in French-Canadians, an excess of resentment that is allowed to excuse other faults. I think it is not becoming, especially from a society who has suffered already from the ignorance of others.


Jason L said...

There was a new story recently about how a legion branch in Quebec had asked their local MP (who was Bloc) for a new Canadian flag for their Remembrance day ceremonies. The sad part is that this MP totally refused to get them one because it was too nationalist.

Now the even sadder part was how all the politicians of the various other parties jumped on this as disrespectful of the vets (which I agree with) and then scrambled over one another to be the first to show up at this legion to give them a flag. You know Stephen Harper was not giving a shit about the veterans as he stood for his photo-op.

Heather Fink said...

I was referred to this blog by Arnold. I've never really read such an in depth Canadian perspective on things. Well put.

Anonymous said...

Down here, in southern North America, we now have two Rememberance Days. The real one, Memorial day, and the 'new' one, Veterans' day. I say it's new even though it's not because since the persian Gulf War veterans day has been the day to "honor those who have made the ultimate sacrificie." I thought that that was what Memorial day was for, the memory of them that went. This two Memorial day thing bugs the hell out of me because I think veterans day should be about the living - those who served and are serving. Letting our rulers, the politicians and the media, decide that it's about the dead means they don't have to look at the living. the homeless vets, the jobless vets, the vets damaged physically and mentally from their service, and that they miss a good opportunity to REALLY support the troops. Instead they lay wreathes and get out of the chilly breeze.