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Future of commemoration in Canada

Youth Ambassador Nolan Janvier of the Clearwater River Dene Nation in Saskatchewan explores a German bunker at Juno Beach in Normandy, France during a 2008 Veterans Affairs Canada commemorative tour, then blogs about the experience to school chums, friends and family back home.  Photos: Sharon Adams, Legion Magazine

With the 200th anniversary of the start of the War of 1812 and the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War on the horizon, now is a good time for Canadians to think about commemoration. What does it mean to us as individuals?  As a society?  How will we keep the torch lit?

Some answers have begun to emerge as the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs begins its study of commemorative celebrations in the 21st century. Encompassing in Remembrance Ceremonies those who served the country after the Second World War and Korea—from peacekeepers right up to those who served in Afghanistan and are now serving in Libya—is one.  Celebrating Canada’s military history is another. Involving youth a third.

Aside from the continued efforts of institutions for whom remembrance is a sacred trust (the Royal Canadian Legion and Veterans Affairs Canada among them) ordinary Canadians at all levels of society–and particularly youth– are becoming involved in commemoration and remembrance.  And thanks to technology, their experiences and insights are available 24/7.

Children are being drawn in by such projects as  We’ll Never Forget, a children’s book by Jean Miso with illustrations by Asher Sadeh. And school projects like those listed on Veterans Affairs Canada’s Schools and Remembrance site.

Teens are spearheading their own commemorative projects. In Langley, B.C., Elizabeth Pratt, 20, and her 14-year-old brother Michael have established Langley Youth for the Fallen, a non-profit organization raising money for a commemorative grove of trees at the Derek Doubleday arboretum in Langley, each tree representing a Canadian Forces member who died in Afghanistan.

Each year dozens of young people and youth leaders go on commemorative tours in Europe to see the battlefields where Canadians fought, monuments where they’re honoured, graveyards where they’re buried, thanks to efforts of kids, parents, teachers, schools, school boards, ministries of education, provincial governments, Veterans Affairs Canada, the Royal Canadian Legion and other government and non-government organizations.

And those kids and leaders use social media to share their experiences to a wider audience than ever before, as demonstrated in this video from John Paul I High School in St. Leard of a 2010  assembly to mark the 65th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the centenary of the Royal Canadian Navy.

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An informative primer on Canada’s crucial role in the Normandy landing, June 6, 1944.