Most people born in Canada have had little firsthand experience with war. Canadians have been extraordinarily fortunate in not having a war fought on our soil for more than 200 years.
Many new Canadians, on the other hand, have had vastly different experiences. War is far more likely to have had an immediate effect on peoples’ lives in many other countries.
Nowhere is this more true right now than in Syria, where millions of people have been displaced. The new federal government is working hard to try and get 25,000 of them to resettle in Canada, but it’s a monumental effort that involves many layers of bureaucracy.
It’s an appropriate time to think about how we as Canadians can help people affected by war, as we have just marked Remembrance Day. That’s the one day of the year when most Canadians reflect on war and the effect it had on this country.
The fallout impacted most families in the country because young people volunteered in the millions during the First and Second World Wars, and the Korean War. They crossed the ocean to fight for freedom and to preserve our way of life.
Surrey was a small rural community in 1914, yet almost 700 volunteered to go off in what was then called the Great War. About 10 per cent did not return, and their names are inscribed on the war memorial in Cloverdale, which was the centrepiece of a large community gathering on Wednesday.
By the time the Second World War came around in 1939, many more young Surrey residents were ready to “take up the struggle with the foe,” in the immortal words of John McCrae. Three members of my own family were among them – including my father.
His mother did not want him to join. Her brothers had been killed in the First World War, when she lived in what is now Poland. Her memories of war were negative and she did not want any of her children to lay down their lives. Mercifully, my father and his two brothers returned home safely after the war.
War is hell. Those caught up, directly or indirectly, are deeply affected. Yet good can come as a result of war. My father’s family would not have come to Canada without the First World War. My grandfather, who served in the Russian Army in the First World War, was determined that his family not be slammed by a second war he was quite sure would follow the first. They left Europe for Canada in 1927.
Many other immigrants have followed that path over the years. They have come from Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, and even the United States, particularly during the Vietnam War. They wanted to pursue a peaceful life in Canada. If hard work would lead to prosperity, that would be a good thing and a bonus – but just being in a place that was far from the boiling cauldron of instability and war was the first priority.
War also has been a strong motivator for many people. When my father’s contemporaries returned to Surrey after the Second World War, they came back with a renewed sense of purpose. They started families, opened businesses, built community organizations and helped Surrey to grow and prosper in a way that most would never have dreamed of.
Most members of that generation are now gone, but their legacy remains. Those who are still among us deserve honour and gratitude from the rest of us, as do all the veterans of subsequent wars, including Korea, the peacekeeping missions (Bosnia and Rwanda being two examples), and most recently, Afghanistan.
We’ve thought about their sacrifice this week, but let’s also be grateful for their legacy to us – in war and in peace.
Frank Bucholtz is the recently retired editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.