Remembrance Day is a special one this year, marking 100 years since the Armistice ending the First World War was signed.
It’s difficult to imagine now the scale of the impact this war had on Canadians and the world as a whole, but it’s worth taking the time to look back.
One hundred years ago, Canada had a population of less than eight million people. More than 650,000 men and women had served in uniform by the end of the conflict, and 66,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders were killed. The call to duty was heard by regular people living their lives between three coasts. Farm boys from Salt Spring, Indigenous sharp shooters and immigrants from many nations came together in the attempt to bring peace and stability back to the world.
To remember the service of those who fought so long ago is to contemplate a sacrifice most of us have never been asked to make, much less volunteered for. We complain about too much rain, or being disoriented by Daylight Saving Time changes. They left families behind and risked traumatic injury and death while enduring hellish conditions such as constant mud, mustard gas, limited rations and disease.
Canadian soldiers were at the forefront of decisive battles at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele, and Canada itself became recognized an independent, morally responsible nation as a result of its contribution. Technically still part of the British dominion, Canada was a signor in its own right to the Treaty of Versailles, which formally ended the war on Nov. 11, 1918.
Some of the core values by which Canada defines itself today can be dated back to this time. War may be necessary or unavoidable at times — such as to put a stop to genocide — but peace is always preferable, and that’s where Canada has focused its efforts. The commitment to a diverse society with equal human rights for all is another outcome, arising in part from the contributions of those diverse soldiers in two world wars and the contrast with their unequal treatment once back at home.
By continuing to look back on Nov. 11, we do not glorify war or romanticize its realities, but reflect on the capacity of individual humans to give up much for a greater good. That is a lesson we can all stand to remember.