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There’s places I gotta see…

There certainly are…many in fact. In less than 24 hours, I’ll be on my way to make it happen. If you’re wondering about the title, you need to listen to more classic rock. Connoisseurs will recognize the line from the iconic Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Freebird.”

So after nearly 3 years of planning, we are finally ready to go to Europe. I can’t believe we started all of this in the spring of 2014. Where has the time gone? It feels like an eternity ago. And it’s not just me; the students have grown up along the way. Those young Grade 9 or 10 students are now in Grade 11 or 12, some getting ready to graduate. What a fitting way to leave the school!

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I usual write about how busy I am and how crazy my life is. My last post ironically said exactly that. Well, when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I managed to find another gear. What an insane few days! So I guess I should tell you about it.

Since this is a once-in-a-lifetime event, I thought it would be great to have the media at the airport for our departure. Last Monday however, I received a call from our school board communication officer, Mike Thompson. He said he was in contact with our two local MPs, Patty Hajdu and Don Rusnak, and they wanted to visit with the students before they left. The trick was that it had to happen by the end of the week, as Parliament is back in session at the start of April. We settled on Friday, but a lot of work had to be done to prepare. Mike would look after the politicians and the media, but I had to find a venue in the school and line up some students to be present.

During our trip, we will be visiting two cemeteries; Tyne Cot near Passchendaele, Belgium and Bretteville-sur-Laize south of Caen France. At those cemeteries, we will honour the fallen but in particular those that served with the 52nd Battalion, CEF and the Lake Superior Regiment. Both were organized in Thunder Bay and are perpetuated by the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment (LSSR) today. I served in the LSSR in my teens. Therefore I thought it would be fitting to invite one of my former officers, David Ratz, who is now a Lieutenant Colonel and commanding officer of the regiment, to the event. It was great to to catch up with him and the students were very appreciative of his knowledge of the history and his stories.

I had to MC the event and scramble with some last minute issues, so I was extremely nervous and sweating like a hog. Fortunately everything went well, and I am very thankfully for that. The media interviewed some of the kids, and even though I knew it was coming, it was still so nervous to speak to them myself. You can read more about the media conference on TBNewswatchCBC and the TBT News.

MPs Hajdu and Rusnak visit students from St. Patrick & St. Ignatius, March 2017.

Probably the biggest source of my stress and the thing that had me running around the most was the tickets for the Vimy ceremony. For security purposes, everyone attending the ceremony has to have a ticket, which makes sense. However, the registration and distribution if said tickets turned into a bureaucratic boondoggle. There was a mad rush to register within a short window and with it came some technical glitches. Then there was the drama getting the tickets. I received my ticket in early March, along with one other chaperone and that was it. We kept receiving messages that because of technical issues, it would be delayed; March 21st, then March 27th and still only 2 tickets. Last Friday Veterans Affairs reported that at the behest of the French Government, all tickets would be reissued. Finally, tickets began to roll in. Cutting it a little close you think, especially since the tickets needed to be printed before we left!

In any case, it’s done, so now there’s just little things left to go. I still have some packing to do and if you know me, I started getting things ready weeks ago. I am not a last minute person; in fact I tend to be quite obsessive about this aspect of traveling, most likely due to the fact that I have some OCD. I don’t care though, better prepared and organized than not.

I have all the boarding passes printed, so we’re ready to hop those flights across the pond. From Thunder Bay we head to Toronto (of course), and from there to Munich. We have a fairly long layover at the Franz Josef Strauss Airport before we heading to Amsterdam, which I guess will give everyone time to nap, including me. I’ll probably be taking the time to blog as well.

Anyway, I better get going. You’ll probably hear from me again from Munich with details of our first day. Until then…

 

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Posted by on April 4, 2017 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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On that disappointing note…

Ya, so I’m not my usual happy self, but the last few days have been a bit of a downer. The weather has been very blah, it’s November and oh ya, we lost our semi-final game! I’ll try to keep it cheery, as I now have a bit more time to do things I’ve put on hold for a while. But judging by the ideas floating around in my head right now, this week’s blog is going to be a bit more pensive than usual; I guess it fits in well with the time of year.

So yes, unfortunately, football is done for another year…hence the title for this week. While I appreciate the time to relax and catch my breath, it is never easy to conclude something you’ve invested so much time and effort into. After beating our opponent 30 to 7 in the regular season, we were confident we could once again beat Churchill. It was a bad omen when we lost our starting A back (and kicker/punter) on the second play of the game with an MCL injury.

The boys played hard, but it was clear there was no mojo at all…we just couldn’t string anything consistent together and lost 14 to 7. Despite the loss I’m still proud of the team, as we came a long way in a short period of time. This was especially true since so many of them had never played football before and nearly sixty percent of the team were grade 9’s. That certainly bodes well for next season, and gives us a lot of optimism.

One of the bright spots this week was the continued progress of the Europe trip. As I reported last time, all the available spots were filled in two days. Tomorrow is our first of many group meetings, and I will outline the student responsibilities for our journey. This is not only a trip, but also a pilgrimage (hence the name Canada’s Battlefields), and as such we want them to understand the importance of recognizing and remembering the sacrifice of previous generations.

On that note, this coming Sunday is Remembrance Day here in Canada. It is the day we take time to honour the more than 100,000 Canadians who have given their lives for our country. It is sad however that for many Canadians it is the only time each year that they remember our war dead. It is almost as if the young cadets and aged Legionnaires distributing poppies are a visual cue for our collective reflection. While I do tend to remember more than most, this time of year does make me think of my own efforts, both in the classroom and outside of it.

Stone of Remembrance, Brette-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery.

From an early age I had always wanted to serve my country in the armed forces. The plan was to attend Royal Military College, but my initial dream of becoming a pilot was sadly shattered in Grade 7 when I found out I had terrible vision and needed glasses. I shifted my focus to a career in the army, possibly even entering the ranks of the parachute infantry (which is extremely bizarre given my fear of heights). At age 17 I decided to join the Army Reserve to prepare for my future transition to regular force of the Canadian Army. I thus became a member of the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment (LSSR).

Pre-10 mile march, August 1991. I’m on the left with the C9 machine gun.

Change of Command parade, September 1991. Front row, second from left.

It is rather interesting how one’s life plays out, for at the time I joined the LSSR I never could have imagined that 21 years later I would be in a classroom teaching history to teenagers. While I certainly enjoyed my time in the reserves, I also came to realize that it was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The constant relocation and deployment of our soldiers was a big influence on my decision to switch careers, but I am also convinced that I was called into my current profession. Maybe teaching sacrifice to our young people is my particular version of duty to my country.

Mother Canada weeping for her fallen sons, Vimy Memorial.

So this week I will do my part to remember. Yesterday was an important anniversary for my old unit, Zijpe Day. On November 5th, 1944, mortar and anti-tank units of the Lake Superior Regiment (LSR-predecessor to the LSSR), along with tanks of the British Columbia Regiment, attacked several German ships moored in the port of Zijpe, Netherlands. They would be the only Canadian Army units to score a naval victory during the Second World War. Some of the LSR dead from this theatre of the Northwest Europe Campaign are buried in the Canadian War Cemetery at Bergen-op-Zoom and we will have an opportunity to honour them during our visit next year.

Grave of Rifleman Janson, Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery.

Obviously with all of these things going on it has been a relatively quiet week on the railway front. I did spend a bit of time looking over my article on Leeblain, which I hope to get back to very soon. I also did a little bit of light research, but there were no earth-shattering revelations.

Most of my attention was directed toward the impending incorporation of the Silver Mountain Historical Society. Next week I meet with the Regional Advisor from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport to discuss preservation of some of the railway, so I guess it’s time to get this group rolling. We have our incorporation meeting scheduled for Sunday, December 9th, and I certainly hope it is well attended. We do have a good little group so far, but we are going to need more support and help from the local community.

Truth be told I am a bit nervous about the whole process, as there are a lot of legal and procedural requirements to this type of endeavour. I really hope more people step up to the plate and volunteer their time. Likewise, it would be nice to see some young blood get onboard too; at 38 I am the youngest person involved with the society. I know there are a lot folks out there that appreciate the history of our area and the history of the railway, but without some hard work and dedication there would be no history to enjoy for anyone. Please support the society!

Well on that note, I should wrap things up for now. As usual, there will be more insights and news next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Research, Travel, Writing

 

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