Monthly Archives: April 2012

Must remember to wear a hat!

So I woke up this morning to the look a nice, bright red head in the mirror. Yes, I am folically challenged aka bald, which some of you may think is unfortunate, but I’m okay with it (my wife actually thinks I look better sans cheveux). I have adapted fairly well to life without hair, and I am usually pretty diligent about sporting some type of headwear when I go out in the sun. However I forgot to grab a hat when I was out with the boys yesterday and thus my melon got slightly cooked. Lesson learned? I hope so, since the last thing I need is a burnt head; I take enough chiding for the white marks on my head from wearing sunglasses.

Last week I wrote about the craziness that is my life right now and things have not improved. I was just mentioning to a colleague today that it seems like every spring seems to be busier than the last. My usual comment is that “things cannot get more insane than they are” and somehow each year I seem to outdo myself. Needless to say I’m feeling the burnout and I’m looking forward to the end of the year. Yes I know that there are still two months to go, but one must think positive right?

So what’s going on? Well, where to start? First there is the marking; I certainly love my job, but I wish I could do without it. I know that one cannot teach without evaluating student progress, but sometimes I wish there was a magic marking monkey. It could start with my Gr.12 essays…that would take some stress off.

With the arrival of May, my attention has also been drawn to football. Yes I know that is a fall sport, but increasingly it is becoming a year-round endeavour. The winter months are filled with weightlifting sessions in the gym, which I spend an hour on Wednesdays supervising. All schools are permitted to run spring camps, and we hold ours in June. Even though it is a non-equipment event, there is still a lot of planning that goes into it. We try to draw students from our feeder school and this year we’re missing our “guy on the inside” which should make things a bit more tedious. We’ll see what unfolds.

Now for the past few posts I have been mentioning that I need to finish the article I wrote for Minnesota History Magazine. Somehow I haven’t managed to get to it yet, which is rather frustrating. It seems as if something gets in the way and I really need to get that out of the way. As I already indicated, my schedule is not going to get any better as we move toward to summer, so now is the time.

Rails, Rosslyn Brick Plant, Rosslyn Village, ON.

One of the things that will be filling my time is hiking. I did get out for a little walk on

Sunday with the boys in tow to re-visit to the railway around Rosslyn. I was last there at the end March, but I did not look at everything I wanted to and I did not shoot any video. It was a warm, sunny day and perfect for looking around at the last pieces of the railway left in the ground. I did find some other sections of rail that I was not aware of, hiding in the tall grass at the former Rosslyn Brick Plant. The video turned out great and it has already found its way on to YouTube. I certainly can’t wait for more opportunities to get out on the railway.

Last thing I wanted to mention was the fact that I did create a Facebook page for the railway. I had been contemplating this for a while, but I finally took the plunge today. I figured it would help attract more attention to the PD, and more people will probably “like” it than joining the Facebook group. Right now there’s not a lot of content on there, but I’m sure it will fill up soon enough. Be sure to visit and give it a like:

Anyway, gotta run. Until then…

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Posted by on April 30, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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To the beat of your own drum

I was kinda stumped when I was thinking for a title to this week’s post. Not a whole lot has gone on and I was worried that I wouldn’t have a lot to write about, never mind coming up with a catchy title. Then it all came to me…I’ll explain later!

Amazingly enough, I’m still getting caught up from the trip, even though I came back from France two weeks ago. Or at least that’s the way I feel. I don’t think I really fell that far behind in my work, but there’s just this nagging feeling that I’m not where I should be. Could it be just a little burnout that is making me feel this way? Well, whatever the situation I hope it remedies itself soon…maybe the 9 weeks left in the school year will do that!

Bergen-Op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery

Speaking of the trip, the gears are really turning for Vimy 2017. I know that is a long way away, but maybe there is a way to fill in the next five years. I was speaking to a colleague today and she suggested maybe a World War II themed tour at some point. Later in in the day I had a phone conversation with our tour manager and she hinted at the same thing. Right now this is all talk though, since I certainly need to run anything by my wife as she’ll be the one at home with two boys for a week again. We’ll see what happens. I did take a few minutes and browse some of the tours that were available on the EF site!

I did promise last week that I would have some railway updates this week, but unfortunately my previously mentioned schedule issues (or my imagined ones) kept me from any serious research. I really need to finish the last tweaks on the article so I can put it to rest, so I definitely have to make time for that this week. My wife is going out of town on the weekend, so I might be able to squeeze it in at some point.

Close-up of CNoR Map 1908, Manitoba Historical Maps.

Now I did get a little work done, quite by accident. For some reason I was Googling

railway maps and I happened upon a map that was produced by Canadian Northern Railway in 1908. It shows all of the railway’s lines up to that point, including the projected extensions. I’ve posted a small section, so here’s the full link: Obviously of interest to me was the disposition of CNoR lines in northwestern Ontario. The map indicates that the Duluth Extension was only running trains as far as North Lake, but there was a projection of the line into the US to link with the Duluth and Iron Range. Interestingly, unless it is a mistake, the map shows the line bypassing the natural connection point at Ely but rather extending to Tower, Minnesota. My favourite though is how the stop “Westfort” is misspelled “West Fork!”

So about the title. Well I was asked this week as to why I write this blog, why anyone would be interested in what I have to say? To this I answer, why not? I don’t write this blog to garner people’s approval; if people want to read it great, if not it’s their loss. I originally started this blog to let those interested in the railway know how my research was going. Also, since my plan is to someday write a book, I wanted to practice my writing since as a teacher I’m usually surrounded by bad grammar and spelling. This is not about what other people think, it is about me. I’ve always done things in my way and never felt the need to conform to whatever else people are doing. This world is filled with people trying to fit in, why isn’t it okay to be different? How boring would the world be if we were all the same? So I’m going to continue being who I am and doing what I enjoy…I really hope some of my students read this!

Okay, I have to wrap things up. In the meantime, the beat goes on! Until then…

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Posted by on April 23, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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Where did spring go?

Today the temperature sits at -4C and there is snow on the ground; it seems as if Mother Nature cannot make up her mind. This is a far cry from the nearly 20C temperatures we were enjoying three weeks ago. I’m sure it will sort itself out soon enough, I hope.

Anyway, a week ago I was standing in the pouring rain at Vimy Ridge; it’s hard to believe a week has already passed. It is good to be home and I’ve finally recovered from the jet lag. It was kinda touch and go there…I nearly fell asleep in class a few times on Wednesday. The pictures have all been downloaded from my camera, all 1316 images or nearly 6gb worth. Wow, I am shutter happy! All video I took is now on my computer too, 24gb of HD content. I was down to the last 10 minutes of recording time on the camera, so that 24gb is about 3 hours of video. I haven’t had time to sort through it all, but I did upload a few highlights to YouTube (From Ypres and Vimy). You can see them by clicking on the following links: Menin Gate CeremonyVimy Song by Lizzy HoytVimy Ceremony Last Post.

In front of the Eiffel Tower, April 2012.

I can honestly day that it was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on, and certainly one of the most special. I’ve already spoken to my classes about it, but I cannot wait to share

more of my experiences and photographs with them. We are already planning ahead to Vimy 2017 and are really hoping that there are similar tours that will be organized by EF. Now having experienced a student tour for the first time, I know what to expect and how to better prepare. Not that I wasn’t ready, I didn’t lose anyone, but there’s always those little things that you cannot anticipate unless you’ve actually done it.

So needless to say I did not get any railway related work done in the last week. I spent my time getting caught

up on all the things I left behind while I was gone and making YouTube videos. I’m sure I will make some time this week to get back to my other life. I still have a few tweaks left to do on the MN History article and then maybe I’ll starting on the Leeblain article for the Thunder Bay Historical Society.

If the weather cooperates, I’m hoping to get into some hiking soon. If the snow goes away this weekend, I’ll try and get out next weekend. I still need to get back to Rosslyn and the few remaining pieces of railway and shoot some video. With those rails obscured by the brush, it’s best to get at them now before everything leafs out and they are even harder to see. It will be May in a few weeks and that marks the beginning of hiking season. I know that it will be a busy spring and summer, but I am going to try and get out as much as I can.

Anyway, I must run. I’ll leave you with one of my favourite pics from the trip. Until then…

Cloth Hall in Ypres, Belgium April, 2012.


Posted by on April 17, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Research, Travel, Writing


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Vimy Day Eight

Well, we’ve started the journey home. I am sitting here at Charles de Gaulle airport waiting for our flight to Toronto listening to some classic rock. Our wake up call was at 4:00 today…thank God this is the last early morning we have. That obviously means though that our trip is over. The past 7 days have been a whirlwind of events, but it was such an awesome experience.

The streets of Paris were amazing, filled with great European culture and architecture. I wish there was more time to explore and take pictures. Two days are not enough in such a great city, but we were on a schedule. I never did see the inside of the Notre Dame Basilica, but the cathedral in Rouen was very impressive as well. I must get back someday, maybe with the family.

Having this time before our flight gives me some time to reflect on the past week, especially on our visits to the battlefields. I think that this was tremendous trip for the students that they won’t soon forget. I am glad that I decided to lead this journey/pilgrimage to France. It took me away from my family for a week, so I too had to sacrifice. However what I gave up pales in comparison to the blood several generations of young Canadians spilled for their country.

We’re in the air now; in the beauty above the clouds my reflection continues. It’s funny how you always think of things after the fact, like how I am right now remembering a few things that occurred yesterday that did not make it into my blog. The one I want to mention was probably the most poignant, which took place during our silent march from Givenchy to Vimy. As our group passed by the Vimy Memorial, we were jolted by a sudden gust of wind from our right. It was almost as if some force was trying to direct our attention to the left, towards the memorial. I’m not sure if everyone else was struck by this occurrence, but it certainly had me looking to the heavens. Someone wanted us to remember.

Now my thoughts drift to our first visit to a Canadian war cemetery, the one at Dieppe. Since the bodies were originally buried by the Germans, the headstones are laid out in German style, back to back and close together. Probably because of the close internment of the dead and because it was our first, the visit was so moving. We had a lot more time to spend there, so you really had a chance to read the names and inscriptions. I won’t soon forget how overcome I was.

After some lunch and a much-needed nap, I am a bit more refreshed. While I was dozing, I thought of our visit to Juno Beach. It was another occasion that needed way more time to fully absorb and explore, but we did our best. I was glad that we got to Bernieres sur Mer where the Queen’s Own Rifles landed at Nan White Sector. Seeing that bunker that I’d taught my students about so many times and walking those blood stained beaches was amazing. The bag of sand I brought home is not some sand from a French beach; it is a piece of Canadian history, purchased with the blood of our youth.

On the last leg now after a hectic connection stop in Toronto. It will feel good to be at home; I know my wife and boys will be waiting for me at the airport. I am excited to see them as this is the longest I’ve ever been away from them. Maybe my homecoming is part of this journey. We get to go home while there are those who never got that opportunity. I should mention this to the kids, that our ability to go back to our families and loved ones is part of their sacrifice. We definitely take our freedom for granted.

Well, I need to wrap things up as I’ve been awake for the better part of 24 hours. I need to get some sleep as I am back to work tomorrow…with a new perspective on what I teach. I will definitely have some great stories for the kids. I know I will enjoy relating my experiences to them and hopefully this has made me a better teacher. And hopefully it will teach them the importance of remembrance. I will end today with one of my favourite poems from the war, written by A.E. Housman. I will be back in a week after a much needed break. Until then…


Cross of Sacrifice, Bretteville sur Laize Canadian Cemetery.

Here dead we lie
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung.

Life, to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose,

But young men think it is,
And we were young.


Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Travel, Writing


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Vimy Day Seven

Five a.m. wake up call…3 hours of sleep…should be epic! Wow am I tired. This is going to be a long day, but it will be an awesome experience. This will be a once in a lifetime event for students and teachers alike. We will be at Vimy in a few hours, so I need to sleep a bit.

It is six o’clock p.m. and we are finally in the bus. I have been a soldier and I am a teacher; I have prepared for and taught about war. For the first time in my life I understand what it means to be a soldier. Standing in the shadow of Canada’s greatest military monument in the pouring rain and wind, I went to school. It is amazing how it takes a journey across the ocean to fully comprehend what sacrifice really means. I’ve always remembered…now I know I’ll never forget.

This was one of the greatest events I’ve ever experienced in my life. When we arrived at Vimy we went through quite the process. We had to be issued special Vimy medals, arm bands and meal tickets. From there it was into a large building to receive candles and our lunches. We then marshalled for a 2.5km parade from Givenchy to the Vimy Memorial.

As the parade time neared, the gavity of what we were going to be part of started to sink in. As our march began, it was something to behold. I’ve never been part of anything like it. Picture thousands of high students and teachers walking in total silence along a route that Canadians fought on nearly a century before. What really struck me was how reverent and respectful the students were…I couldn’t have been any prouder than them.

The walk also epitomized what Vimy Ridge was all about; Canadians together as a nation. The students and teachers of St. Patrick and St. Ignatius Thunder Bay, and Ridley College St. Catherines walking side by side with a high school from Newfoundland. Just as all 4 Canadian Divisions fought together that day, we marched in solidarity as Canadians wherever we were from.

It was fantastic to witness the reaction of the French people, who lined the streets smiling, waving and holding Canadian flags. They understood so well what is this event was all about; I was so proud to be a Canadian and a teacher. I would put this march near the top of all the trip moments.

Vimy Ridge National Memorial

When we crested the ridge and saw the wide Douai Plain stretch before us, you really understood why the ridge was so important. Even though it was overcast, the panorama was spectacular. It was then that we saw the memorial up close for the first time. It was a sight to behold and more breathtaking than I ever imagined. We had arrived.

We then moved past the memorial towards Vimy Canadian Cemetery Number 2 for a special EF Tours service. Our route took us past the preserved battlefield of the park, pockmarked with an unbroken sea of shell craters. The fences and signs warning of unexplored ordnance made it so real. The story of the park states that there are 60,000 trees on the site, one for every Canadian killed in the war.

The service was nice, as they lined up everyone in front of a grave. There were readings by students and the playing of the Last Post and Reveille. From there we proceeded to the memorial for pictures and a visit. The only unfortunate part was that we were pressed for time and we couldn’t spend a lot of time looking around. We did get some group photos with the memorial and were able to get on the monument to look around for a bit (they kicked everyone off to prepare for the VIP’s).

I really wanted to get some photos of Mother Canada or the Spirit of Canada weeping for her fallen sons. It is the heart of the monument and sits right in the middle, by herself looking over the Douai Plain. What a moving sculpture…it would have been nice just to have some quiet time there and reflect. We then had to hustle to eat a quick bite before we were off again.

One of the biggest attractions at the park are the preserved trenches. When the park was being created, veterans help to reconstruct part of the trenches along what was called the “Crater Line.” Both sides dug underground shafts in the soft chalk and tried to blow up the other’s trenches. It left massive craters all along the ridge. This area shows the German trenches on one side of a crater while the Canadian trenches are on the other side 50 feet away. The veterans filled sandbags with cement to create the walls, which gives it a very authentic look. Near the Canadian trench is the entrance to the Grange Subway, which was an underground tunnel that led from the trenches to the rear areas. Too bad it was closed because of the volume of traffic.

The next event on the agenda was a ceremony at the monument with all 4000+ students attended by the Governor General, His Excellency David Johnston. We did a lot of waiting and the weather turned very nasty; I Tweeted that it was almost as if the heavens were weeping for Canada’s fallen too. The rain was pouring down and coming in at times sideways. Last night’s honour guard was there again, along with the 22é Regiment band, this time in full dress with Bearskin hats and red tunics. There were speeches, along with a beautiful song by an Alberta woman whose name escapes me now. Then there was the Last Post, Reveille and the Lament. For a while I forgot how cold, tired and sore I was. When I have time, I will post clips to YouTube.

After the ceremony we headed back to the bus; we were supposed to go to a concert a nearby stadium next. However, given the fact that everyone was drenched and exhausted, we decided to forgo the concert in favor of returning to the hotel. We would have liked to have stayed, but because of early flight, we would have to have left by 9:00 for the bus ride to the hotel. Everyone managed to get in a shower and then head off to get some food.

Since I’m up in 5 hours, I’ll sign off. Until then…

The Spirit of Canada (Mother Canada)


Posted by on April 9, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Travel, Writing


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Vimy Day Six

Happy Easter! This is the first time I’ve spent a major holiday away from home, so I’m really missing my wife and kids. I’m sure they went to mass in the morning and then enjoyed the goodies the Easter bunny brought.

Right now we’re on our way to the Nine Elms Cemetery in Thelus for our cemetery visit. Each student was assigned a soldier to research at a specific cemetery as part of the tour. Should be an interesting event. 

While I have a moment, I thought I would comment on the experience of eating breakfast in France. I normally eat a bowl of cereal in the morning, so this is quite novel for me. Breakfast has been buffet style, with the usual fair of cereal, fruit and yogurt. What is interesting is all of the cheeses, meats and various breads available. Not a good meal if you’re watching your carbs!

After a two hour drive, we arrived at the Nine Elms Cemetery (which is about a 10 minute walk from the Arras Road Cemetery where we parked). It is a pretty little cemetery right beside the highway. Before we visited the graves we held a small service by the cross of remembrance to pay tribute to those that fell. 

Grave of Private Ecobichon, 15th Battalion, CEF.

We were given enough soldiers that I also had one to research. Sidney Ecobichon was born on Jersey in the Channel Islands in 1897. He lived with his parents in Peterborough before enlisting and being assigned to the 15th Battalion. Ecobichon was killed in action on April 18, 1917. I believe he was originally buried in the Arras Road Cemetery, but was transfer to Nine Elms and rests in an area called the Arras Road Memorial.

While we waited for the bus, I decided to look in the adjacent farmers field to see if I could find anything. Almost instantly I found a shrapnel ball; very quickly I was joined by several other treasure seekers. It was the most excited I’d seen the kids! We turned up many more shrapnel balls, bits of metal, a German cartridge and I found the base of an artillery shell. Sadly we had to retire to the bus! 

An hour drive later we arrived at the Tyne Cot Commonwealth Cemetery near Ypres, Belgium (or Ieper). It holds 30,000 burials! The size of this cemetery is just staggering…it almost beyond comprehension. The headstones stretch on and on. It really gives you an idea of how massive the loss of life was during World War One.

On the ride to the cemetery my fellow chaperones Riley, Kerry and I decided that we would do

Grave of Lieutenant Drummond, 13th Battalion, CEF.

a little investigation. We wanted to look up some Canadians who were buried there. Our collective brainstorming recalled that two prominent Canadians we interred there, Drummond and Norsworthy. Lieutenant Guy Drummond and Major Edward Norsworthy were both members of the 13th Battalion, the Black Watch. They were both killed on April 22, 1915 at the Second Battle of Ypres when the Germans first used chlorine gas. The gas devastated the Algerian troops beside the Canadians, and both officers realized that their entire left flank and the road to Ypres was wide open. They charged into the gap with members of the Watch and surviving Algerians; they were killed holding the line.

Grave of Major Norsworthy, 13th Battalion, CEF.

Supper was in Ypres, at a place called Gasthof Zweerd. There were many other Vimy travellers there, and the square was a sea of black and red jackets. For the first time I left a restaurant full, after our meal of meat salad? and chicken/sausage pastry with fries. We then had a bit of free time, so I headed across the square to buy my wife Jo-Anne some Belgian chocolates. I know she’d rather have something from Tiffany’s but, I did my best.

As I walked around, I noticed a sign with the name of the Governor General on it. I then noticed a large Canadian military presence in the square…something was up. Soon a military honour guard assembled, made up of what seemed like infantry reserve members from many units (including the LSSR). I had to leave as we had to head to the Menin Gate for the Last Post…in retrospect I wish I had left earlier. The area around the Gate, which is a Commonwealth Memorial was already filling with people. The Menin Gate is inscribed with the names of nearly 55,000 men who are missing around Ypres, more than 6,000 of whom are Canadian.

Since 1928 they have held a Last Post ceremony everyday at 8:00 at the Gate (with the exception of WWII). The Governor General, His Excellency David Johnston arrived at the Gate preceded by the band of the Royal 22é Regiment and the honour guard. The ceremony was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever witnessed, well other than my wedding and the birth of my children. I spent the entire time taping the ceremony; when I have time I’ll make a highlight video and post it to YouTube.

Anyway, I have to get rolling since tomorrow we have to get up at 5:00 and it will be a very busy day. I will leave you with another poignant photo…the age of this young boy from Newfoundland will shock you. Until then…

Grave of Private Barter, RNR.

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Posted by on April 8, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Travel, Writing


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Vimy Day Five

7:53, on the bus and ready to roll.

I didn’t think I could any more tired, but I am! I had some girls from another school in the room beside me playing music past 12:30 this morning. I was up at 6:00, so my eyes are rather heavy. I’m sure I’ll perk up at Juno Beach and the cemeteries we visit; should be another amazing and emotional day.

The graves of the Branton brothers.

Our first stop today was the Canadian War Cemetery at Beny sur Mer. There are over 2000 Canadians buried there and it was a very emotional experience again. I find it interesting that Beny, like Dieppe, is tucked away in a very quiet location. It is probably better that way. Unlike Dieppe, I did have a mission today, which was to find the graves of Gordon and Ronald Branton. Brothers from Lethbridge, Alberta, they are just one of several sets of brothers buried in Beny. Their inscription reads, “We left with a jest our home in the west. Now here with the best we lie at rest.”

A very short drive later we arrived at the Juno Beach Centre, which was built almost 10 years ago as a museum not only for D-Day, but for all of Canada’s WWII involvement. The Centre was interesting to see, but I really wanted to get to the beaches. The part of Juno Beach in front of the Centre was known as Mike Red sector, and it was where the Winnipeg Rifles came ashore. There was an observation post located just behind the beach, but our Tour Director Hugo was going to take us farther east where there was more to see.

It was very fitting that today was cold, misty and windy, much like it was on June 6, 1944.

German bunker, Nan White Sector, Juno Beach.

Our next destination was Bernieres-sur-Mer, where the  Queen’s Own Rifles came ashore at sector Nan White. The first house they captured is called Canada House and just down the beach is a preserved bunker adorned with the QOR logo. The Queen’s Own suffered the highest casualties of all the assault units, and looking from the bunker tells you why. Designed to enfilade the beach, it and others killed and wounded half of the QOR in minutes. I made a point of picking up some sand and rocks…almost like I’m taking pieces of Canadian history.

We spent our lunch in the town of Arromaches, which is in the Gold Beach area. After eating a baguette with jambon and frites, I wandered the immediate area for a while. There is a museum there, along with several vehicle and artillery displays. In the sea off Arromaches you can see the remains of the Mulberry artifical harbour system. I think the kids were more excited about the gift shops that sold WWII relics, like shrapnel and shell casings.

On our way back to Rouen, we made a detour to the Canadian cemetery at Bretteville sur Laize. It was quite the adventure getting there, driving all the back roads from Arromaches to Cintheaux. At one point we had to cross a two bridges right by each other with a wicked curve in the middle. Our driver had to get out and size things up; he figured we could make it. After a few tense moments, some skillful driving and a little scrape, we made it through. It earned him a well-deserved round of applause. 

The cemetery at Bretteville has almost 2800 burials and is absolutely huge. It was too bad we were pressed for time as the 30 minutes we had was way to short, but I really wanted to visit this cemetery and was glad that we made it. Our first order of business was to hold a short service in honour of those who gave their lives for Canada. Kudos goes out to our friends at St. Ignatius for organizing these little ceremonies…I think it makes it that much more significant for the students. 

Grave of Major Griffin, Black Watch.

For many years I have taught my Gr. 10 students about the fighting in Normandy, and in particular the Battle of Verrières Ridge . This battle was part of a larger, unsuccessful series of attacks called Operation Spring. More than 800 Canadians were killed in Spring, and they are all buried at Bretteville. In particular, I teach them about what happened to the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment of Canada) at Verrieres and how the entire regiment was wiped out. The commander of the Black Watch (who was an acting commander after everyone above him became casualties), Major Phil Griffin, was blamed for the failure of the attack; I wanted to pay my respects to him.I think that it will mean more to me now that I’ve visited his grave and saw the area that was fought over.

There was one more thing I had to do before we left. Prior to becoming a teacher, my career goal was to attend military college and enter the army. When I was 17 I

Grave of Major Styffe, Lake Superior Regiment.

joined the local infantry reserve unit, the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment. The LSSR perpetuates the Lake Superior Regiment, which fought in Normandy as part of the 4th Armoured Division. Forty-two members of the LSR are buried at Bretteville and I thought it was my duty to try and honour them. However due to our time constraints, I was only able to visit the grave of Major Edward Styffe, who was killed in action August 14, 1944. I did pledge to myself that I would return some day and do the fallen members of the Regiment proud.

On our return to Rouen we went to dinner, which was an okay meal of pasta with chicken in a sort of Alfredo sauce. We did take some time to celebrate the birthdays of Matt J. and Cassie who were both turning 16 during the trip. After dinner we had a bit of free time, so the kids could relax, look around the square a bit and unwind. Tomorrow is Easter, so we are heading off to mass at 9:30; I’ve never been to church in another country so I am looking forward to the experience. I’ll finish this off after we return.

The church was locked, so I guess there wasn’t mass. Can you cancel church?

Tonight I had the chance to speak to my wife Jo-Anne and the boys for a bit. Although I am enjoying myself immensely, I do miss them very much. I really want to take my boys here one day to see this for themselves…I think it is something that all Canadians should do. It really makes you thankful for the life we enjoy. After to speaking to my boys tonight and experiencing all the history over the last few days I wanted to leave you with this. I thought it would be a fitting way to end given the purpose of this trip. It was pointed out to me by my colleague Sara at Bretteville. Please click on the photo and read the inscription at the bottom; I became so choked up I had trouble taking the picture. Until then…

Grave of Rifleman Janson, Regina Rifles.


Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Travel, Writing


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Vimy Day Four

7:15am. Showered. Packed. Fed. Ready to roll for the day.
Today is Good Friday, the most solemn holiday in the Christian calendar; somewhat fitting that we are headed to Dieppe, scene of Canada’s worst military defeat. Visiting the graves of Canadians killed on the beach is probably a good way to remember the crucifixion of Jesus. Sacrifice.
I am a bit tired today; I was up to midnight finishing yesterday’s blog. Then it was an unending parade of people, conversations, door knocks and door clicks in the hallway. I don’t know which school these kids were from, but it was very annoying since my alarm was set for 5:50. The 2:00am phone hang up was the coup de grace (I thought it was the wake up call). Needless to say I’m a bit tired. Probably why I started off the day in fine form. As I finished my first helping of food at breakfast I then remembered it was Good Friday…as a practicing Catholic, today is one of the few days of abstinence left on the calendar. So I guess I blew it with the sausages I ate; I think God will understand.
While we drive to Dieppe I wanted to comment on one of those curiosities of Europe that I experienced yesterday. I’d never been in a “unisex” washroom before, so I shall explain. Basically guys and girls enter through the same door; the guys go to the urinals one way and the girls have stalls the other. However, the girls walk by the guys who are only covered by a chest high wall. Kinda awkward watching ladies walk by and vice versa while you do your business. Interesting.
So we were almost an hour and a half late getting to Dieppe because of the traffic in Paris, but we were all excited go be there nonetheless. I’ve taught Gr. 10 students about the Dieppe Raid  for almost 10 years now, but it was an amazing experience to actually walk the beaches. Standing on the shore you are just awestruck by the huge headlands to the east and west. You can feel the shingle underfoot that disabled the tanks. You’re amazed at the distance the soldiers had to run to get off the beach. It was just an experience to walk on a beach that so many Canadians died on. I picked up a few rocks for myself and my boys.
The city of Dieppe itself is quite pretty and I wish we had more time to explore it. I didn’t eat lunch today, choosing rather to spend some time by myself. I went back to the beach and walked around a bit more, just soaking in the experience.

Beach at Dieppe from the West Headlands.

From the beaches we visited the castle on the west headlands; from there it really gives you an idea of how difficult the landing was. I wish we had more time to explore the castle, but we were pressed for time. There were some bunkers on the cliff we looked at and it gave you a view from the German perspective. We couldn’t dwell though, as we needed to visit the cemetery before heading to our hotel in Rouen.

The Dieppe Cemetery is tucked in a quiet little corner away from the city; maybe it was better that way. I’d never been to a Canadian war cemetery before and it was an eye-opening experience. There are over 700 burials in the cemetery and I was proud to be there. After taking some pictures and video, I began to walk around and look at the graves; there were

Unknown Canadian burial, Dieppe Cemetery.

so many names. As I circulated, I started to read the inscriptions on the headstones (families could add text to them for a fee). Overwhelmed, I tried to do it again and I had to walk away…it was way too emotional. So I sat down on a bench and played with my phone to distract myself. The best part of the experience was watching the kids…watching, reading, crying…I was proud.

On the bus again, we drove to Rouen and our hotel. There wasn’t time to check in, so we walked to our restaurant for dinner. Tonight our restaurant was called “69,” which solicited laughs and smirks from everyone on the bus. The meal was roast pork and potatoes (again), which was good, but the portions were to small! The creme brulee desert was awesome!
After eating we made our way to the hotel, visiting a few places along the way. The best by far was the Rouen Cathedral…Gothic architecture at its finest! We went inside the church, trying not to disturb mass. What a spectacular interior! We didn’t make mass for Good Friday, but at least we got into a church.
So it’s already past midnight and we have an early morning again to go to Normandy.
Until then…

Posted by on April 6, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Travel, Writing


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Vimy Day Three

Ok, it’s 7:15 and I’m here in the lobby waiting for breakfast. It’s amazing how good a decent night’s sleep feels; hopefully by tomorrow I’ll be caught up. The bed felt great, and the hotel is pretty nice. We’ll see how breakie measures up! Today we’re going to be on a tour of the city, and whatever else comes up.

Well, I’m sitting on the bus back to the hotel trying to type with frozen fingers; I’ll explain later. Today was another busy but exciting day. I have a lot to tell about so hopefully I warm up in the process.

After we left the hotel and drove downtown again. We picked up a local guide and did a driving tour of Paris. We saw somethings we didn’t see on our walking tour. After that ended, the bus left us near the Eiffel Tower.

We spent some time taking photos at the Trocadero Esplanade before heading down to near the tower itself. We stopped for a bite to eat and this time I actually had something resembling French cuisine, though I’m not sure a panini “Italien” qualifies-it was good, but only wops know how to slice prosciutto! After we ate it was time to visit the tower.

The line to take the lift up was about two hours long, so we decided to walk up to the first level. 5€00 to walk up a few hundred feet…my fear of heights loved that. It was quite the view, but unfortunately the sun disappeared and it got very hazy. It also became very cold; I dressed for 14C it was supposed to be. Therefore the short-sleeved shirt I was wearing and just my Vimy jacket left me rather chilly! Actually I was more like frozen.

I even ventured to the second level, which did almost make me nauseous. Some of the kids took the elevator to the third level and said it was great experience…I’ll take their word for it! When the clock ended our visit, we still had free time left, so we had to figure out what to do next. Hugo had given us Metro passes, so the plan was to try and get to the catacombs before dinner.

This wasn’t my first time on a Subway, but Toronto is a bit different from Paris. Trying to navigate around with 7 kids in tow is a bit of a challenge as well (St. Ignatius has 18 kids, so we were one big caravan). We took the number 6 subway to the catacombs, but got there at 4:00, just as it was closing! So we had go back on to the subway and take the B line to our next destination.

After being frustrated in our initial quest, we thought we would head to Notre Dame again, which was near our meeting place. Some of us (me included) were too tired yesterday to stand in line to get in, so we thought this time would be better. Well, our luck held, so the line was ten times longer than the last time! Some of the kids did a bit of shopping while a few of waited near the cathedral. At 5:30 our trudge to dinner began.

Today we ate at a place called “Flam’s.” I was a bit worried when the hostess led us past the tables and into the basement. Down a few windey staircases led us into a series of very Gothic looking rooms, which was a rather interesting dining experience. They served us Flammekueche style pizza, which is made with a very thin, stone baked crust, something like alredo sauce, cheese and either bacon/onion or bacon/mushroom topping. Along with some plain salad, it was a very good meal. Desert was the same crust with either apples or chocolate on it. Yum!

Eiffel Tower at night, April 5, 2012.

We decided in the morning that since dinner was early, we would take a boat ride on the Seine at night. We had to go back on the subway, taking the number 1, then the number 6 again to Bir-Hakim station. It was a bit crazy since it was rush hour, but we made it okay. From there we walked to close to the Eiffel Tower again, and boarded the boat. It was busy, so we didn’t get good seats and the boat had glass sides and roof, but it was interesting nonetheless. I think I got some good video. The best part was when we got back and the tower was all lit up-wow! I got some great shots…you’ll have to make due with one from the Playbook!

It was freezing cold again, and my finger were borderline numb, so I guess now things make sense. Anyway, I need to get to bed since we’re up at 6:00 to head off to Dieppe, Rouen and a new hotel.

Until then…
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Posted by on April 5, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Travel, Writing


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Vimy Day Two

So I’m sitting here on the floor just outside of the Denon Gallery of the Louvre. I am completely exhausted! What a day!

So our plane arrived almost an hour late, and then we have to wait forever for our bags. Of course mine was one of the last, coming out almost 15 minutes after everyone else got there’s. Then we met our Tour Director Hugo, boarded the bus and went to our hotel. As we expected, we could not check in and instead stored our bags until tonight. After a quick meeting and bathroom break, we were on the road again.

It took us almost an hour to navigate the streets to reach the Louvre. Paris is a beautiful city, but I would never want to drive here; talk about insanity! We almost got into a dozen fender-benders by Canadian standards, but I guess people are used to it here.

When we arrived at the Louvre, it was lunchtime, so Hugo gave us an hour to eat. The food court was insane! There were a lot of choices, but I was too tired and hungry to bother…I ate at McDonalds! Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but it was the easiest choice. Only Matt J tried some local fair; everyone else opted for McD’s or pizza. I did promise myself that tomorrow, when I’m rested and have time, I’ll eat better!

Now the Louvre. Wow, what a place! We only visited the Denon Gallery, but it was amazing! I’m sure it would take days to fully visit this place…unfortunately everyone is exhausted, so that’s why we’re chilling on the floor. I’d love to take my Gr. 11 history class here when we do the Renaissance. The only bad part was that we kinda got lost, and couldn’t figure out how to get to the lobby. It didn’t help that they closed one of the floors we came in through, so we couldn’t just backtrack. Obviously it all worked out in the end.

After leaving the Louvre, we did a “little” walking tour of the area. It was more like a two hour power walk, which was especially nice on a couple hours sleep. We did see some great stuff, but it was all too fast. There was finally a 30 minute break near Notre Dame, which gave me a chance to wet my parched whistle to the tune of 2.70€. Need to bring the water bottle tomorrow!

Notre Dame Cathedral, April 5, 2012.

Notre Dame was magnificent…too bad I could not see the inside (we are going to come back tomorrow). This week is holy week, so there are masses every night and the cathedral was full. It is truly a architectural marvel.

Within walking distance was our restaurant for the evening Lodies. We had a nice dinner of salad, whipped potatoes and roast pork. The chocolate mousse desert was a nice touch. Now we’re on our way back to the hotel to check in and hit the hay…I think everyone is falling asleep on the bus. I have to upload these latest blogs and then retire myself as we have a 6:30 wake up.

Until then…
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Posted by on April 4, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Travel, Writing


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