Lorsqu’une délégation de Canadiens se rend à Washington en 1887 pour négocier un traité avec les États-Unis, leurs hôtes les invitent à faire une promenade en bateau sur le Potomac. Arrivé plus tôt, un des délégués canadiens entame une conversation avec une dame en attendant ses collègues. C’est la femme d’un sénateur américain.
“Auld Lang Syne” has aptly been described as the song that nobody knows, although it is universally the song the English-speaking world uses to bid farewell to the old year and to hail the new.
The song nicely combines a note of conviviality with a poignant sense of loss, just the right mood for New Year’s Eve, when our minds hover between regret and anticipation.
The song we sing now is a version of an ancient song reworked by the 18th century Scottish bard Robbie Burns, a song he said “of olden times” which he took down from an old man’s singing and then improved with the words we (try to) sing today.
On December 25, 1943, the acrid smell of cordite hung over the rubble barricades of Ortona, Italy, where Canadians and Germans were engaged in grim hand-to-hand combat. Even amid the thunder of collapsing walls and the blinding dust and smoke darkening the alleys, the men of The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada and The Loyal Edmonton Regiment were determined to celebrate Christmas. They chose the abandoned church of Santa Maria di Constantinopoli as their banquet hall.
“When death reigned, and the agony of pain.” – Private William Perover
When I was a boy and my father’s trauma from his service in Holland was raw in his shattered leg, our family mythology was still dominated by his father’s warrior pride. An argumentative man, my grandfather Marsh ended every dispute with a display of his scarred leg and the expletive “Vimy Ridge!”
When he volunteered at age 41 for service in the First World War, John McCrae wrote to a friend that “I am really rather afraid, but more afraid to stay at home with my conscience.” In April 1915, McCrae and a young friend, Alexis Helmer, joined the 18 000 soldiers of the First Canadian Division in their positions near Ypres, Belgium. The Battle of Ypres commenced on 22 April and lasted for six hellish weeks. It was during this battle that the Germans launched the first gas attacks of the war.
For a long time, I did not know how to sort out the memories on November 11. As a student I wore a poppy, held silent in a school assembly, and watched the widows lay wreathes beneath the cenotaphs. I was always impressed by the lofty sentiments about sacrifice expressed in the speeches that day, but my mind struggled to make a connection with my own family: my grandfather who bared his scars and bellowed the words “Vimy Ridge!” as a threat, and my father, whose injuries from the second war sped him into alcoholism and an early death.
How does memory speak to us? Each November, over 13 million poppies blossom on the jackets, dresses and hats of Canadians. Everywhere we are moved by the sad words penned by the Canadian medical officer from Guelph, Ontario, John McCrae:
[Editor's Note: The Canadian Encyclopedia is proud to present its second free app, Toronto in Time, highlighting the stories of the city. “Marilyn Bell Swims Lake Ontario” is one of over 160 unique stories in the app, available for iOS and Android.]
Marilyn Bell waded into the frigid waters of Lake Ontario at Youngstown, NY, at 11:07 p.m. September 8, 1954. It wasn’t supposed to be a race, but she made it into one. The Canadian National Exhibition had offered $10,000 to American swimmer Florence Chadwick to swim the lake. Many thought it was unfair not to include Canadians in the event. Only two others took up the challenge, Winnie Roach Leuszla and 16-year old Marilyn Bell.
[Editor's Note: The Canadian Encyclopedia is proud to present its second free app, Toronto in Time, highlighting the stories of the city. “The Maple Leaf's Last Stanley Cup” is one of over 160 unique stories in the app, available for iOS and Android.]
No one expected the 1967 Maple Leafs to win the Stanley Cup and no one expected that it might never happen again! The Leafs themselves that year knew they were flawed. They were mostly old, erratic, tired and had a poisonous relationship with their coach and general manager “Punch” Imlach. They lost the first game of the playoffs against the highly favoured Chicago Black Hawks but then the magic began as the goaltending of 42-year old Johnny Bower and 37-year old Terry Sawchuk turned back a dispirited Hawks team.
When I arrived in Edmonton in 1980 to become the editor of The Canadian Encyclopedia I was only dimly aware of the presence of the man at the epicentre of both the oil boom and the fight with Ottawa. Having lived in Ottawa I had experienced the power that another man, Pierre Trudeau, had over the political landscape, but I soon learned that Peter Lougheed had equally put his stamp on the dramatic decade of the 1970s.