Feds dropped ball with WWI anniversary tributes: historians

Feds dropped ball with WWI anniversary tributes: historians

Wrote one historian: ‘Other than the Vimy Ridge celebration … I think they have done a very bad job’

Canada has missed a chance to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War with efforts that fell far short of those in allied countries, several historians say.

“I think the government of Canada botched the commemoration of the First World War,” said author and military historian Jack Granatstein, a former head of the Canadian War Museum. “Other than the Vimy Ridge celebration in 2017, I think they have done a very bad job.”

This past Remembrance Day marked not only the centenary of the armistice that ended the First World War, but also the conclusion of four years of commemorations around the world to learn about and remember the “War to End All Wars.”

While the war cost the lives of more than 60,000 Canadians, it also had significant and lasting impacts on Canada’s political, social, economic and cultural landscape, such as the rise of Quebec nationalism, women’s suffrage and more autonomy from Britain.

Veterans Affairs Canada says it has spent $13 million since 2014 on different events commemorating the war, with most of the money dedicated to last year’s high-profile ceremony for the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge. That was a large event: More than 24,000 people attended.

But the British government set the standard when it budgeted 100 million pounds, or about $170 million, for ceremonies, BBC documentaries, school visits to battlefields, museum refurbishments and other programs about the war.

Several other countries also organized signature events and educational programming, with New Zealand setting aside at least $20 million and Australia budgeting nearly $80 million.

READ MORE: Canadians mark Remembrance Day, 100 years since end of First World War

“We had this one event at Vimy,” said Mark Humphries, an expert on the First World War at Wilfrid Laurier University. “Australia has focused so much on both Gallipoli as well as what happened to them on the Western front. Lots of documentaries, miniseries and other stuff focused on it. And in many ways Canada’s kind of been on the sidelines for a lot of this.”

Veterans Affairs contends that it wasn’t sitting on its thumbs over the past four years. Ten large-scale public events were held in Canada and overseas, a spokesman said, while TV and internet advertising reached millions of Canadians.

More than four million books, pamphlets and other pieces of learning material were also distributed each year to schools, youth organizations and community groups.

Still, a glance at the Veterans Affairs website in recent weeks showed that the vast majority of events leading up to the 100th anniversary of the end of the war were organized not by the department but by individual communities and organizations.

One of the most active communities was the small town of Cobourg, Ont., about an hour east of Toronto, where a play about a trial involving Canada’s top general from the war served as the foundation for weeks of larger commemorations.

The government announced last week that Cobourg would get $10,000 from a fund established to support commemorative projects in local communities. Veterans Affairs did not say how much money had been distributed through the fund.

Historians are divided over why the government took the approach it did.

The Conservatives under Stephen Harper launched the First World War commemorations to great fanfare in 2014 after making a big deal of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, and were the ones who promised the Vimy Foundation money for the new visitor centre. But some say the Conservatives didn’t start the planning needed years before the commemorations, to begin work on documentaries and other large projects.

Others wonder whether the messy story of Canada’s experience in the First World War, when conscription for a war in Europe threatened to tear the country apart and left lasting divisions, particularly in Quebec, made the government leery about making too much noise about the conflict.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

District of houston
Council dips into surplus for highway project

Costs have risen to place utility lines underground

“Skeena,” by John Hudson and Paul Hanslow is one of five fonts in the running to become the default for Microsoft systems and Office programs. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Font named after Skeena River could become the next Microsoft default

One of the five new fonts will replace Calibri, which has been Microsoft’s default since 2007

Accessibility improvements and more classrooms at the Houston Christian School should be completed by the new school year. (Houston Today photo)
Accessibility improvements coming to Houston Christian School

Construction package includes two classrooms

The soft opening of the nature centre at the Buck Creek CANFOR hatchery took place mid-April. (Angelique Houlihan photo/Houston Today)
Houston hatchery and nature centre’s upcoming events

The conservation group to host summer students this year

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Junior A team Coquitlam Express is offering all Tri-City residents who get vaccinated against COVID-19 a free ticket to one of their games. (Facebook/Coquitlam Express)
B.C. hockey team offering free tickets to hometown fans who get the COVID-19 vaccine

‘We know the only way to get fans back is people getting vaccinated,’ says Express’ general manager Tali Campbell

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon speaks in the B.C. legislature, describing work underway to make a small business and tourism aid package less restrictive, Dec. 10, 2020. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s latest COVID-19 restrictions cost thousands of service jobs

Part-time workers set back again by spike in virus spread

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Leaked report shows detailed B.C. COVID-19 data not being released to public

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Abbotsford school board trustee Phil Anderson has stepped down after sharing an offensive image on Facebook. (File photo)
Abbotsford trustee temporarily steps down after sharing post relating COVID masks to slavery

Phil Anderson to receive training to better understand provincial mask mandate after posting picture

B.C. announced the launch of an app May 7 that connects youth struggling with mental health and substance use with “life-saving” social services. (Screen grab)
5 years in the making: Mental health app for youth and children launches in B.C.

The province provided $1.6-million to fund a virtual care platform

Amazon has announced the creation of five new facilities in B.C., to employ about 2,000 people. (Amazon/Special to Black Press Media)
Amazon adds new facilities in Langley, Pitt Meadows, Delta, Vancouver

The Vancouver port centre will be the first Amazon centre to feature robotics in B.C.

A worker rides a bike at a B.C. Hydro substation in Vancouver, on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
BC Hydro report raises safety concerns as pandemic prompts jump in yard work

Incidents involving weekend tree trimmers, gardeners and landscapers have risen 30% since the pandemic hit

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Most Read