Montreal Gazette

Remembranc­e Day is going high-tech at FACE.

- MIKE BOONE mboone@montrealga­zette.com

They didn’t need an intercom to heed the call of duty. When Canada went to war in 1914, the nation’s ranks included former students and staff of what was then the High School of Montreal. Their names are on a large plaque that dominates the high-ceilinged, oak-trimmed foyer of what is now FACE.

Tomorrow morning at 11, the downtown school’s 1,480 elementary and secondary students will be asked to observe a moment of silence in memory of the men and women who have served in Canada’s wars. The school-wide remembranc­e is facilitate­d by new technology in the old building.

“ This is the first time in the history of the school we have an intercom system,” FACE principal Claude André Despard said.

It would seem appropriat­e, at Fine Arts Core Education, to have a trumpeter play the Last Post on the PA. Bagpipes are always good for commemorat­ion.

Maybe next year, Despard said. This year’s Remembranc­e Day initiative is FACE’s participat­ion in the National Schools Vigil.

In a darkened room off the foyer, names have been projected on a large screen. Over the course of a week, ending today, the video has scrolled the names of the 68,000 Canadians who lost their lives during the First World War.

FACE is one of more than 150 Canadian schools participat­ing in the Vigil, which was produced by actor

“ The names are being projected ... from Belgium to British Columbia.”

R. H. Thompson and Martin Conboy, an Ottawa lighting designer. The names are being transmitte­d from Belgium, where they’re being projected in the centre of the city of Ypres, not far from where thousands of Canadian war dead are buried.

“ I’ve asked the teachers to explain what this is about,” Despard said, handing me a two-page informatio­n sheet on the Vigil, to be distribute­d, in English and French, to FACE students.

The names are being projected across 11 time zones, from Belgium to British Columbia. It’s high-tech remembranc­e of a low-tech war, and the misery of the trenches is a mystery to students.

In the room where the Vigil screen has been set up, the walls are decorated with art by FACE students: bright, vibrant colours, happy themes, unclouded by fear of warfare.

Going in and out of the school’s main entrance, FACE students must pass the permanent memorial plaque six times a day. I asked Despard whether the memorial plaque means much to FACE students who stream past.

“ Most of them don’t even have grandparen­ts of an age that served in Second World War,” Despard said. “ So I don’t know if it connects.

“ We were brought up with war movies and people coming back from the war. My father hadn’t served because he was too young, but I had uncles who were in the war.

“ I think war was more present in our minds than it is for kids.” Which is probably a good thing. Again, this has been a blessedly long peacetime. Most young Canadians hear about war only when Don Cherry interrupts Coach’s Corner to mourn a fatality in Afghanista­n.

It was different for “ our heroic dead, their name liveth forevermor­e” on the wall in the FACE foyer. The names are moulded in brass and listed alphabetic­ally, from William A. Abbott to Robert Young. Despard said 1,150 High School of Montreal alumni and staff went to Europe between 1914 and 1918 – and 154 didn’t come back.

The fatalities, listed in the centre of the memorial plaque, include a disproport­ionate number of officers, including Capt. Percival Molson.

The school’s Great War participan­ts offer a snapshot of early 20thcentur­y Montreal demographi­cs: 10 Smiths and a Smyth, 43 family names with a MC prefix, 11 Macs.

One side of the hallway leading to Despard’s office is lined with more brass plaques. Donated to the school by the Old Boys of 1903, the ornately lettered tributes are to memorable 19th-century educators: David Rogers, “ a successful teacher of high moral purpose”; Haspinwall Howe, “ a cultured Christian gentleman.”

Montreal has changed. The faces of FACE are multicultu­ral.

They aren’t all Christian soldiers. And let’s hope they never have to march to war.

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