When many Canadians think of war memorials and historical war sites, they invariably look to Europe.
The beaches of Normandy in France, the concentration camps of Germany and Poland and villages in the Netherlands all provide for spectacular educational visits, but one Royal Roads University professor hopes his latest project will help Canadians realize that a lot of historical sites exist in our own backyard as well.
Geoff Bird, who heads up the tourism management graduate program at Royal Roads in Colwood, directed and produced “War Memories across Canada,” a nearly completed project that features sites of the First and Second World War and aims to connect viewers to places in Canada that were shaped by the war effort.
The project includes a total of 27 documentaries, each running between five and 10 minutes apiece. They showcase such Canadian places as the Labrador hometown of decorated First World War hero John Shiwak, and even such local sites as the William Head Correctional Institution in Metchosin, which at one time served as a quarantine station for over 80,000 Chinese men.
Bird, who has worked as a heritage guide at the Vimy Ridge War Memorial in France, said he was always “astounded by the power of the place.”
“It’s an open field and you layer a story over it … it’s a very special place in our nation’s history,” he said.
A simple road or a beach can be transformed by a story from the past, Bird said, and that type of connection is what he hopes to evoke with this project.
“When you begin to look at these different stories, you see the massive significance that the wars had in shaping Canada as we know it today, and we often don’t know those stories. It’s important to know them, because it gives us an appreciation of what we have today.”
In addition to William Head, West Shore sites such as Fort Rodd Hill and Royal Roads are featured in the project.
Bird and his crew faced numerous challenges in completing the project, including having only eight months to spend the grant money received from the federal government.
“We had to go to places like Labrador in November … we were quite successful in getting to as many places as we did, but so many places we could not get to because of the time of year,” he said.
From an education tourism point of view, Bird hopes his project shines a light on the opportunity Canadians have to visit important war sites at home, as well as the more famous sites abroad.
“Vimy and Dieppe (in France) and Groesbeek in Holland, those are the places we go to for our war heritage experience and those are important places, there’s no doubt about it. There are also places in Canada that have additional narratives for us to learn about our past,” he said.
Documentaries from the First World War are viewable online at warheritage.royalroads.ca. Each clip includes a link to a conversation kit that aims to provide more background information and initiate discussion.
Stories from the Second World War are due to be posted later this fall.
Bird’s project is the first initiative in a broader war heritage research effort at Royal Roads.