Friday Two Cents: Honour Our Past To Understand Our Present


This year I decided to visit the Ottawa region for a mini vacation.  There I indulged in a few activities that always bring a smile to my face.  This vacation came out of a desire to recharge my batteries so to speak by doing something I truly love, learning more about my beautiful country Canada.  What better place than in our nation’s capital of Ottawa.  

There I visited a number of historical sites and museums but the one place or museum that always touches my heart is the Canadian War Museum.  I have been to the museum many times, both at the old and new locations.  Our country is known for its peace and openness of other cultures but we Canadians have a vast and honourable military history dating back to the First Nations and then later to the first European settlers. 

This year they had an extra exhibition of the Highland Warriors. We as Canadians share a common heritage with the United Kingdom, Scotland being one of them.  If you have read my blog you would know that I recently went on my second trip to Scotland where I enjoyed the people, culture, history and natural beauty Scotland has to offer.  This exhibit was a wonderful reminder of that trip and how close culturally Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Britain are to Canadians.  Many of our military and cultural traditions originated for this region and I have always believed that knowing where we come from helps us to understand who we are.  

As a teacher I find this subject matter a necessity for all students to learn. The museum is a treasure trove of information of our history and sacrifice by many who would see Canada grow and flourish.  However many would argue against teaching students about this part of our history, that we should not be “glorifying” war.  Many I talked to were adamant that we should not talk about the soldiers or the wars to students.  

Yet I say, “To truly understand our present we must first understand our past”; the good, bad and ugly sides.  I cannot tell you how many adults do not know or understand the current Canadian issues that we face today, started many years if not decades ago.  But they keep on complaining and in my opinion whining about these issues without knowing the history of them.  

One such person, in a class I once attended, would not stop arguing about this and kept saying it is a waste of time.  I argued the other side saying how important it was for us to remember and teach this subject.  She finally asked me straight to the point why was I so passionate about this.  Well I looked at her and rather simply said, “Because those men and women gave their life’s blood so that we would have the RIGHT to be free and to have this argument.”  I emphasised Right, we have the right to do what we want because they made the ultimate sacrifice to make sure that our rights were preserved.  

Today people have the right to be who they are, what ever that may be. Those men and women fought and paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure these rights.  The least I can do is remember them and help pass on their goal of a prosperous and free Canada.  

For … 

“To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields”

In Flanders Fields Poem, By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

I for one will always take up the torch and hold it high.  The question is who will join me.  

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Friday Two Cents: Canada 150 Ottawa Trip – The Royal Canadian Mint


 

This past week I visited a familiar place that I love going to over and over again; our nation’s capital Ottawa.

I have been to Ottawa many times but every time I go there I am filled with patriotism and pride for my birth country Canada. I have been to most, if not all, of the museums the city has to offer like the War Museum and Parliament Hill. One of the places I visited was Royal Canadian Mint.

The Royal Canadian Mint

At the mint I was able to go for a tour, yet you cannot take pictures inside because even though the outside looks like a castle, inside it is a working factory. Once inside they showed us the process of transforming bricks of gold, silver and platinum into investment and collector coins. They have a forge that melts down the metal, presses, cuts, weights, inspects and stamps the coins. It was a very informative tour and an impressive process.
However, I also learned a lot about the mint that I had not known before. I found out that the mint also produces coins for other countries. They estimated that they have produced coins for over 60 countries. Not only coins but the mint also created the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympics and the Toronto 2015 Pan Am and Para Pan Am Medals. They had examples of the Olympic medals on display and I learned that each medal has a part of a larger image. If you place all the medals beside each other they create an aboriginal artwork of an orca and the Paralympic medals of a raven. Not only that but the medal are in a wavy shape to represent the mountain range in British Columbia. Inspiring!

The 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games Medals

They also told us about their purity of the gold. Most gold in the world is pure to 99.99 (99.99%) or four 9s. But the Royal Canadian Mint can get a purity of five 9s or 99.999. They showed us the largest, purest gold coin in the world. It has a face value of $1,000,000 CAD. The Australians have a larger gold coin but theirs’ is only 99.99 pure. The Canadian coin is 99.999 pure and they made only 5 coins, which a few individuals and companies bought them. But because they are also collectors’ coins their value has gone up to be worth about $4 million and it keeps going up in value. One was stolen from a Berlin museum in March and its whereabouts are currently unknown. Another one of the owners is a billionaire from Saudi Arabia. They say he uses is as a coffee table. Must be nice to have money eh.

Canadian 1Million dollar Gold Coin

After the tour I was even able to lift a bar of gold. Mind you it was chained to the platform and a security guard was right beside it. If you ever get a chance to lift a bar of gold, try it. The first thing that I noticed was that the gold was soft to the touch like lead or hard clay but metallic. Also it was extremely heavy. One bar of gold weights 28 pounds and with the price of gold I was holding about $725,000 CAD or $575,000 US in my hands. I can now say that I have held over a half a million dollars in my hands, WWWOOO what a rush. Gold rush, that is.

Friday Two Cents: Ottawa Trip Part 5 – The National War Memorial


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The other memorial I visited is the one most dear to my heart and sense of patriotism. It is the National War Memorial. Unveiled in 1939 to commemorate the Canadians who served in World War I (WWI), it has over the years come to symbolize the tremendous sacrifice of all Canadians who served in times of war for freedom. It has been later rededicated and the dates 1939 – 1945 (World War II (WWII)) and 1950 – 1953 (Korean War) has been placed in bronze on each side of the memorial. In 2000 the Tomb of Canada’s Unknown Soldier was added on the site in front of the memorial. Inside is a Canadian soldier that fought during WWI near the site of the battle of Vimy Ridge. Today it is the site of Canada’s Remembrance Day celebrations and stands as a constant reminder that the cost of freedom is sometimes paid for in blood.

For me this is one of the most important sites in Ottawa and whenever I visit the capital I always visit the memorial to pay my respects to the people who fought, so that I may live in a country that is free. A country where I do not have to fear religious persecution, where I have the freedom to say and do what I want; a country where the government is elected by the people for the people. A country where my little nieces will grow up free to vote and be whatever they want to be.

I use to come once every two years for the Remembrance Day celebrations but I have not been to Ottawa in about 15 years and therefore I have not visited the memorial. This is my first time seeing the Tomb of Canada’s Unknown Soldier and I could not help but be touched by the thought of who and what it represents. We do not know who he is, only that he was a Canadian. He represents all our sons, brothers, fathers, uncles and friends who died in service for all of us. I could not help but stop and say a silent prayer of thanks and gratitude for his sacrifice.

When I arrived and spent time at the memorial I could not help but reflect of what this memorial represents to me.   For me this memorial is a symbol to all Canadians that this country is the way it is because of those who sacrificed so much on the altar of freedom.   Then the words from the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ came to me and their words mean so much even today nearly 100 years after they were written. It speaks of the dead, passing the torch to the next generation and to remember them. And then the words rang true to me …

In Flanders fields the poppies blow


Between the crosses, row on row,


That mark our place; and in the sky


The larks, still bravely singing, fly


Scarce heard amid the guns below.



 

We are the Dead. Short days ago


We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,


Loved and were loved, and now we lie


In Flanders fields.



 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:


To you from failing hands we throw


The torch; be yours to hold it high.


If ye break faith with us who die


We shall not sleep, though poppies grow


In Flanders fields.

In Flanders Fields by Major John McCrea

(A Canadian poet and physician who served in World War I)

It is my turn to take up the torch and hold it high. I will not break faith with those who die. They can sleep though poppies grow, in Flanders Fields.

Rest, be at peace and thank you.

Friday Two Cents: Ottawa Trip Part 1 – The Canadian War Museum


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   In the past I use to go to Ottawa (Canada’s capital) at least once every 2 – 5 years for the culture or for Remembrance Day. Yet I have not gone to the nation’s capital for the past 15+ years for a variety of reasons. Therefore I decided to go this year on a spur of the moment idea. Mind you I did book a room and made plans on what I wanted to see but I was inspired by my earlier adventures this year to Discovery Harbour and Fort George. I delved into Canada’s past and learned a few things about my Canadian heritage and I wanted to learn more.

And what better way to discover Canada than to drive across its beautiful landscape. I love to drive and driving to Ottawa was as fun as doing things there. It takes about 4 ½ hours to drive to Ottawa from Toronto but I did it in about 5 hours. I stopped a couple of times for washroom breaks, to stretch my legs and to get something to eat. The landscape is beautiful with trees, wetlands, lakes, rivers and rolling hills wherever you look.

Toronto to Ottawa

Ontario Landscape

Ontario Landscape

       In Ottawa I wanted to learn not only about Canadian history and politics and what me and everyone living in this country Canadians but also about other interests of mine. I saw and experienced a lot in Ottawa that I cannot place it all in one post, I have to divide it into several. Hence this will be the first of perhaps 4 – 5 posts about a few sites I explored in Ottawa.

The Canadian War Museum

The first place I visited was the new Canadian War Museum building. Well for me it is new; I went to the Canadian War Museum before when it was in the old building. The new building opened on May 8th, 2005 on the 60th anniversary of VE day (Victory in Europe). They have wonderful exhibits on every era in Canadian history pertaining to conflicts that Canada was involved in. From the First Peoples to early settlers, the war of 1812, Confederation, The Boar War, World Wars I & II, the Korean War, the Cold war up until the present. They had artifacts from muskets to rifles, early aviation, tanks and models of warships. The best part of the museum showed the personal side of the conflicts showing ordinary Canadians and what they did to preserve our freedom.

They also had a special exhibit on the Roman Empire, specifically the Gladiators. It was amazing to see the artifacts from the Roman world and other pieces from the Coliseum. The Roman Empire is my favourite ancient civilization, I also took several courses in university on the subject matter. I enjoyed the exhibit immensely.  

However, one such area touched me to the point I had to stop and reflect on what I saw. A small display showed a Canadian Aviator who flew Spitfires during World War II (WWII). His name was George “Buzz” Beurling, also known as “The Falcon of Malta”. This was very personal to me because my heritage is Maltese and I had heard stories from my father about the “Second Great Siege” of Malta during WWII. My father was an adolescent during the war and he assisted the RAF with their ground security, running out and capturing shot down enemy pilots. He survived being strafed and bombed which was a miracle because Malta was the most heavily bombed place in the world during the war.

Hell Island – By Dan McCaffery

I remember him telling me about a pilot who would go up and shoot down enemy planes like he was born in a fighter. I even found a book called “Hell Island” by Dan McCaffery that retold the stories of Canadian pilots who fought during the war. One story was very familiar and as I read it, I remembered the stories my father told me. I read it to him and he said that was the pilot he remembers and it was George Beurling. I was amazed for that day, history came alive for me and the great pride I had of a Canadian fighting for my parent’s survival and thanks to his and other Canadians, my family survived and that I am here today because of heroic actions of men like George Beurling.

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George “Buzz” Beurling – The Falcon of Malta

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George Beurling Memoirs from the Battle of Malta

The rest of the museum was so spectacular that I spent the entire day looking around and absorbing every detail. Looking back I arrived 15 minutes after it opened and left 15 before it closed. Tey had so many artifacts that showed Great Canadians doing extra ordinary deeds that I had to just slowly take in all that I saw and read. I cannot tell you everything that I saw, you just have to experience it yourself.

Or if you like, over a tea I can try to recount the wonderful stories of brave Canadians. From stories of the Cold war to the actions of Canadians in Vimy Ridge and Normandy, I am in awe with what those brave men and women did. The whole experience has made me reaffirm my gratitude to them and for their sacrifice. For without their sacrifice I would not be here today.  

Thank you, Merci to you all who served and paid the ultimate sacrifice. I for one will never forget what you have done.  

Ailish Sinclair

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