McGrath and Henshaw have commented recently about the sorry state of historical awareness and education in this country. Henshaw in particular ran a devastating post about his grandfather's experiences at Vimy (so did someone else but for the life of me I can't find the link now) [Edit: found it - it was Dave at The Galloping Beaver]. All reference the recent Dominion Institute survey showing that most Canadians knew next to nothing about the Battle of Vimy Ridge before the recent ceremonies.
(I nearly posted all of this as a comment to one of these posts, but noted the length and thought better of it.)
I suspect that part of the problem lies in the way Canadian history is taught in schools. Year after year of the same endlessly repeated stories about Cabot, Cartier, Rupert’s Land, the Plains of Abraham, the Family Compact, Mackenzie, Riel, blah blah blah… By the time they got to Confederation I had already dropped history. It’s marginally better now, but not much.
Today I am a history fiend. Why? Genealogy.
Face it - nobody really gives a rat’s ass about what Haldimand or Brock or Laurier did on which dates at what places. It’s far more interesting to read about some poor schmuck who gave up his farm to fight with the British at Saratoga, only to die of smallpox along with most of his family within days of arriving in Quebec with the battle’s other refugees.
It’s far more interesting to read the newspaper accounts of a Quebec bar brawl in 1834 that ended with a young man dead, and how that random tragedy lead his parents to pack up thirteen of their children and settle hundreds of miles away at the far end of Upper Canada.
It’s far more interesting to read the sermons and essays that resulted in a Methodist minister being tried and expelled from the church for heresy in 1893, and how that eventually led to the settlement of Beaverlodge, Alberta.
THEN it becomes interesting to find out about the context of these events, about what led up to them and how they affected other people and events. THAT’S how you teach history - start with ordinary people and work your way up, not the other way around. And I honestly think that most Canadian historical MOWs do a very good job of this. Think ‘The Arrow’ (which, BTW, made me yell and cheer and love and hate my country). Think ‘Shattered City’. Even something like ‘Divided Loyalties’, which was about big names and major events, showed how these were really just ordinary people minding their own business when history forced them to take a stand and make a difference.
As for Vimy, I’m not sure that knowing the name, date and circumstances of any specific battle, even one this significant, is nearly as important as having an understanding of the soldiers and what they went through. Who were they? Why did they join up? What did they write in their letters home? What was the battle like, and how did it affect them after? Once we get that, then we’ll remember the name and the date of the battle and maybe what it meant in the larger context of our history.
That would be a movie worth seeing. Think ‘Band of Brothers’.