Des­ti­na­tions

Re­mem­ber­ing the Great War through his­toric sites on the home front.

Canada's History - - CONTENTS - Mark Collin Reid

Home-front his­toric sites of­fer glimpses of life dur­ing the Great War.

Most Cana­di­ans have at least heard of Vimy Ridge — that fa­mous bat­tle in France where, in April 1917, all four Cana­dian di­vi­sions fought to­gether for the first time; where, over three days of fight­ing, 10,602 Cana­dian troops were wounded or killed in ac­tion; where, some ar­gue, Canada came of age on the in­ter­na­tional stage.

Many thou­sands of Cana­di­ans have vis­ited the Vimy Memo­rial in France since it opened in 1936. It’s the most fa­mous of our over­seas war memo­ri­als, and one of only two Cana­dian Na­tional His­toric Sites found out­side of Canada; the other marks the lo­ca­tion of Beau­mont-Hamel, France, where the New­found­land Reg­i­ment was nearly wiped out on July 1, 1916, the open­ing day of the Bat­tle of the Somme.

Both his­toric sites are re­minders of the sac­ri­fices made by cit­i­zens a cen­tury ago. Yet you do not have to travel to Europe to find ev­i­dence of that. Many Cana­dian cities and towns have lo­cal mon­u­ments ded­i­cated to the war dead. And then there are the Na­tional His­toric Sites that of­fer op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­plore the Great War in more depth.

As Cana­di­ans mark the end of the “war to end all wars,” here are some na­tional his­toric sites on the home front that en­rich and en­hance our knowl­edge of the First World War.

Hal­i­fax Citadel Na­tional His­toric Site

Hal­i­fax, Nova Sco­tia’s cap­i­tal, was founded in 1749 by the Bri­tish as a bul­wark against the French fortress of Louis­bourg on Cape Bre­ton Is­land. Fol­low­ing the Seven Years’ War, it re­mained a cen­tre for naval power, and, dur­ing the Great War, it was a key em­barka­tion point for both sol­diers and

matériel bound for the Western Front. Thou­sands of sol­diers passed through this port on the way to the war. Too many of them would never see Canada again.

Vis­i­tors to Hal­i­fax can re­live the ex­pe­ri­ences of Great War sol­diers at Hal­i­fax Citadel Na­tional His­toric Site, lo­cated atop Citadel Hill in the heart of the city.

The Citadel housed many sol­diers in its bar­racks and also acted as a com­mand cen­tre and even a prison camp dur­ing the Great War. At the Army Mu­seum Hal­i­fax Citadel, vis­i­tors can ex­plore trench art, see ar­ti­facts from the two world wars, and tour a full-sized sim­u­lated trench. As well, a nurses’ tent of­fers a glimpse of front-line medicine. This Re­mem­brance Day will fea­ture a spe­cial memo­rial cer­e­mony as well as a twenty-one-gun salute by the 1st Field Ar­tillery Reg­i­ment.

Bethune House Na­tional His­toric Site

In China, Nor­man Bethune is per­haps the most fa­mous Cana­dian ever to have lived. Yet he re­mains some­what un­known in his home coun­try. The Graven­hurst, On­tario, na­tive en­listed in 1914 with the No. 2 Field Am­bu­lance and served as a stretcher bearer. Wounded by shrap­nel in Bel­gium at the Sec­ond Bat­tle of Ypres, he was even­tu­ally sent home, and by 1916, he had grad­u­ated with a med­i­cal de­gree.

Re-en­list­ing with the Royal Navy, Bethune headed back to the war, where he served as a med­i­cal of­fi­cer. The con­flict greatly in­flu­enced his later ca­reer; after wit­ness­ing so much car­nage, Bethune ded­i­cated his life to pro­vid­ing timely front-line care to the wounded.

Early in his med­i­cal ca­reer, Bethune helped to im­prove sur­gi­cal tools and was an in­no­va­tor in tho­racic surgery. Dur­ing this pe­riod, he in­creas­ingly favoured so­cial­ized medicine and even­tu­ally joined the Com­mu­nist Party of Canada.

An ad­vo­cate for work­ers and the op­pressed, Bethune in 1936 vol­un­teered with left-wing loy­al­ist forces in the Span­ish Civil War, where he pi­o­neered the mo­bile blood trans­fu­sion unit.

Later in the 1930s, Bethune trav­elled to China to pro­vide health care and aid to Com­mu­nist revo­lu­tion­ary forces. He died from blood poi­son­ing he con­tracted while op­er­at­ing on a Com­mu­nist sol­dier. In 1973, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment pur­chased Bethune House, Bethune’s child­hood home. The Vic­to­rian-era home fea­tures ar­ti­facts and im­ages that help to paint a pic­ture of this First World War vet­eran — to­day com­mem­o­rated as a mar­tyr and a hero in China.

Sig­nal Hill Na­tional His­toric Site

Sig­nal Hill looms over St. John’s, New­found­land and Labrador — both lit­er­ally

First World War re-en­ac­tors with a 1913 Ford Model T at the Hal­i­fax Citadel Na­tional His­toric Site. The his­toric site com­mem­o­rates the Great War with sev­eral ex­hibits.

Clock­wise from top left: Aerial view of the Hal­i­fax Citadel; Sig­nal Hill Na­tional His­toric Site in St. John’s, New­found­land and Labrador; Bethune House Na­tional His­toric Site in Graven­hurst, On­tario.

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