Students reflect on Canada’s sacrifices

October 1, 2016 by Adam Day

In raw numbers alone, it has to be one of the largest, most enduring contest of the arts in Canada.

For more than 50 years Canadians students have been entering posters, essays and poems in The Royal Canadian Legion’s annual poster and literary contests. This year there were more than 100,000 entries. The four senior winners of the contests will come to Ottawa to participate in the National Remembrance Day ceremony, placing a wreath on behalf of all Canadian youth.

The contests have one overarching purpose—to strengthen the tradition of remembrance among Canada’s youth.

There can hardly be a better example of that than the poem, “Why the Poppy?”  by Ethan Edstrom, a Grade 10 student from Edmonton, who submitted his work through that city’s Strathcona Branch. Here is the poem, succinct enough to reproduce it in its entirety:

Atop the soldiers’ graves in Flanders Fields,
Are flowers helping all the heroes rest,
And even though their coffins have been sealed,
We proudly sport our poppies on our chests.

This vibrant flower serves to recognize
The bravery of those who fought the war.
Canadians who offered up their lives
So that we could live freely evermore.

The wearing of this poppy shouts aloud
That we will not forget their sacrifice.
From coast to coast, we’re passionately proud
Of those who showed their virtue, faced with vice.

The freedom we enjoy in this great land,
Has been a special, lasting legacy,
Of those who fought so Canada could stand
An independent country, wide and free.

So, this November, don this poppy pin
And know those soldiers are among us yet
In every freedom they won for their kin,
And in our hearts live on, lest we forget.

Edstrom says his intent “was to outline why we actually wear this flower on our lapel every year, because sometimes the message is lost a little bit. So I wanted to bring attention to what the poppy actually means.”

His inspiration to write the poem came before he even knew the Legion contest existed. He was at last year’s Remembrance Day ceremony and he began thinking about the importance of remembering those who’ve sacrificed for Canada.

“I have family members who have served—two of my great-uncles,” said Edstrom. “So I had a respect for the armed forces and veterans instilled in me from a young age. Every Remembrance Day, we reflect on the sacrifices of those who do serve and so I just wanted to express that kind of feeling on paper and that’s how I ended up writing the poem.”

“The things that we remember—the sacrifices
made by our armed forces and veterans—it’s crucial
to who we are as Canadians.”

After he wrote the poem, he showed it to his teacher and then to his vice-principal at the Tempo School in Edmonton, and the rest is history.

“The things that we remember—the sacrifices made by our armed forces and veterans—it’s crucial to who we are as Canadians,” said Edstrom. “If we lose touch with those events, and those values, we lose a bit of who we are. So it’s important that we do remember and that we do honour those who made that sacrifice.”

Edstrom can’t wait to come to Ottawa in the fall to participate in his first National Remembrance Day. “It’s a fantastic honour,” he said. “It really hasn’t fully sunk in, but I’m sure it will when I get to Ottawa and participate in those events. To be able to represent a whole demographic of people in Canada is incredible. It’s going to be awesome. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Also looking forward to her trip to Ottawa is Olivia Zeng from Coquitlam, B.C. She won first place in the senior category for her colour poster, which was submitted through the Port Coquitlam Branch.

 

Senior Posters First Place

 

poster-1
Winner: Olivia Zeng of Coquitlam, B.C.
poster-3
Winner: Casey O’Neill of Belleisle Creek, N.B.

The Grade 12 student says she’s “extremely excited to have won. Just very, very happy about it.” This was her first time entering the poster contest, and she credits her teachers and friends with helping her with the concept for her moving image of a Legionnaire backed by the ghostly outlines of soldiers. “For me, it was a lot about what my teachers taught me. Because my family is an immigrant family, we don’t have anyone who was a Canadian veteran. So a large part of knowing what happened in history all came from what my teachers taught, and my friend who was in cadets.”

Zeng has plans to become a professional artist after high school, and so the effort she put into making this piece was really second-to-none.

Intermediate posters first place

 

 

poster-2
Winner: Lauren Cheslock of Stittsville, Ont.
poster-7
Winning Poster: Juliana Jiang of Richmond Hill, Ont.

“With that image, for me it was really important to be accurate,” said Zeng. “I really want to be able to portray my feelings about history. So it took a great deal of research, talking to people who knew about uniforms and weapons. The way those ghosts move backwards, well, it was a very gradual process of research that put together that image.”

Junior Posters First Place

 

poster-4
Winner: Johnny Rivas-Gonzalez (Colour) of Hamilton, Ont.
poster-6
Winner: Alastair Capstick of Bloomfield, N.B.

Among the other great pieces was the winning senior essay from Shane Pendergast submitted by Morrell Branch on Prince Edward Island. The piece is a lyrical overview of the central role music has played in the Canadian war experience. But it’s not just a synopsis, as Pendergast makes his share of insights as well, such as this section on the nature of black humour during war: 

Some of the songs that spouted from Canadian trenches included “We’re all Waiting for a Shell” and “Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire.” I was surprised to see such dark themes, as I presumed that trench-songs might be cheerier in nature, to form a pleasant escape. But maybe, in such terrible times, the only way to stay sane was to make jokes. How could the overwhelming evil of the war be comprehended in any other form than comedy?”

The whole essay is definitely worth a read.

Also worth checking out is the black and white poster by Casey O’Neill, a Grade 10 student from Belleisle Creek, N.B.,  who submitted her work through the Norton Branch.

Primary Posters First Place

 

poster-8
Winner: Kadie Lynn Hofer of Camrose, Alta.
poster-5
Winner: Kayla Jackson (Colour) of Dartmouth, N.S.

O’Neill’s work is a poignant depiction of conflict throughout the ages, showing soldiers of different eras in different uniforms against an eerie and timeless backdrop of infantry walking toward combat. The poster features the quote—Loved and were loved—from John McCrae’s famous poem, “In Flanders Fields.”

You can see many more of the winning works from other age categories on these pages, but if that’s not enough, you can peruse the entire roster of winners here: legion.ca/youth/contests.

And make sure to watch out for the four senior winners at this year’s Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa; they’ll all be standing proudly in front of the National War Memorial, living symbols of Canada’s youth.


2016 Results

Senior

Colour poster—First: Olivia Zeng, Coquitlam, B.C.; Second: Anika Leung, Ottawa; Honourable Mention: Natalie Ann Rippey, Windsor, N.S.

Black and white poster—First: Casey O’Neill, Belleisle Creek, N.B.; Second: Maria Singson, Scarborough, Ont.; Honourable Mention: Radhika Verma, Stephenville, N.L.

Essay—First: Shane Pendergast, Mount Stewart, P.E.I.; Second: Danielle Hauck, Strathmore, Alta.; Honourable Mention: Megan Krempa, Cobourg, Ont.

Poem—First: Ethan Harry Edstrom, Edmonton; Second: Danika Peters, Kaleden, B.C.; Honourable Mention: Julia Crystal Richardson, Kingston, P.E.I.

Intermediate

Colour poster—First: Juliana Jiang, Richmond Hill, Ont.; Second: Dylan Capstick, Bloomfield, N.B.; Honourable Mention: Heidi Lundell, Prince Albert, Sask.

Black and white poster—First: Lauren Cheslock, Stittsville, Ont.; Second: Taysha Boulter, Kelowna, B.C.; Honourable Mention: Sarah Ha, Calgary.

Essay—First: Kate Shackleton, Scarborough, Ont.; Second: Elisabeth Marks, Hanna, Alta.; Honourable Mention: Tia Sodurlund, Macklin, Sask.

Poem—First: Quirina Thompson, Medicine Hat, Alta.; Second: Andrea Bilawich, Vancouver; Honourable Mention: Victoria Hobbs-Regular, Springdale, N.L.

Junior

Colour poster—First: Johnny Rivas-Gonzalez, Hamilton, Ont.; Second: Kyla Stahl, Camrose, Alta.; Honourable Mention: Cheryl Pickett, Cape Tormentine, N.B.

Black and white poster—First: Alastair Capstick, Bloomfield, N.B.; Second: Trista Bering, Kingsville, Ont.; Honourable Mention: Emily Adams, Benalto, Alta.

Essay—First: Wesley Finner, Kemptville, Ont.; Second: Cora Campbell, Lloydminster, Sask.; Honourable Mention: Sara Hickey, Dunville, N.L.

Poem—First: Evan Dicks, Deer Lake, N.L.; Second: Sarah Sevigny, Cowansville, Que.; Honourable Mention: Jeremy Gale, Renfrew, Ont.

Primary

Colour poster—First: Kayla Jackson, Dartmouth, N.S.; Second: Chloe Ann Whittle, Dunville, N.L.; Honourable Mention: Ajayveer S. Nahal, Abbotsford, B.C.

Black and white poster—First: Kadie Lynn Hofer, Camrose, Alta.; Second: Meredith Tong, Beachburg, Ont.; Honourable Mention: Charlie Burtt, Central Blissville, N.B. 

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