passing the torch on remembrance day

"If ye break faith with us who die / We shall not sleep, though poppies grow / In Flanders fields.

“If ye break faith with us who die / We shall not sleep, though poppies grow / In Flanders fields.”

The closing lines of Lieutenant Colonel McCrae’s In Flanders Fields remind us every Remembrance Day that we have a duty to keep the memory alive, and to pass it on to those who come after us.

Veterans have worried with each new generation that the torch would be dropped. The First World War ended more than 90 years ago. This year’s Remembrance Day in Britain, for example, was the first without a living veteran of the 1914-18 war to lay a wreath at the cenotaph.

When this columnist grew up in Whitehorse, it was all very real. You actually knew Yukoners who had flown Lancasters over Germany, piloted obsolete fighter planes against Japanese Zeros or protected ships against Nazi submarines on dark, hopeless nights in the North Atlantic.

Many of these veterans are gone now.

But I think they would be pleased to see today’s younger generation learning to remember their sacrifice, even without the personal connection to our collective past that they represented. All across the country, in families, schools and Legion halls, Canadians are talking about remembrance with young people.

And fortunately for those trying to figure out how to pass the torch to the next generation in their house, there are impressive new books, movies and (of course) web pages to capture the young imagination.

First of all, the history book has been transformed since you were a student. Scholastic Canada has published a series by Hugh Brewster that includes the titles OnJuno Beach and At Vimy Ridge. Unlike old-fashioned history books, these are full of photos, maps and engaging personal experiences. Max Clarke, a Whitehorse 11-year-old whose great-grandfather disappeared in action in 1944, read the whole set in two days when his mother brought them home from the library.

Asked if what he had learned was relevant today, he replied that “It’s still important, because there are still wars going on around the world.”

He also gave the series “nine out of 10” and said he would recommend it to others his age. Kudos to Scholastic and the author, who is visiting the Yukon next week. He’ll be at the schools as well as the Whitehorse Public Library on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.

The boring, old documentary has also been transformed. We saw the premiere this month of Convoy: War for the Atlantic. This Channel 4/History Television co-production of four episodes provides a gripping account of the submarine war, full of insights about why Winston Churchill said that “The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.”

The series has high production values, with computer generated maps and ship displays that dramatically improve the ability of the narrator to get his point across.

Convoy also marks a major milestone for accessible Canadian history. The Battle of the Atlantic was one of Canada’s biggest contributions to the war effort, with hundreds of warships and thousands of casualties, but until now we have mostly seen it on screen through British or American eyes in productions such as The Cruel Sea or the historically lamentable U-571 (starring, believe it or not, Jon Bon Jovi).

Now, in Convoy’s meticulously accurate dramatizations, we hear real Canadian accents on the bridge. There is a particularly powerful segment recreating the Royal Canadian Navy’s dramatic hunt for two enemy submarines during Germany’s deadly 1942 campaign against Allied shipping in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

The tension is palpable as the lookouts and sonar operators, Prairie farm boys just a few months before, desperately hunt the enemy as freighters explode and burn around them.

It’s definitely not the National Film Board filmstrip you remember from high school.

Finally, a concerted effort by groups such as the Dominion Institute has put a vast quantity of high-quality material on the web. For parents and classroom teachers, for example, the Dominion Institute has created learning kits to help young people better understand Paul Gross’s film Passchendaele, the Canadian historical drama that came out last year.

So, if you are a parent, aunt, uncle or friend of a young Canadian and were standing at Remembrance Day this year trying to figure out how to bring up Canadian history without sounding like an old fogey, try the titles mentioned above.

You might just find that your young Canadian is more interested than you think. And you might even learn something yourself.

You can watch Convoy online at Visit the Dominion Institute’s website at

And you can meet Hugh Brewster, author of On Juno Beach, at the Whitehorse Public Library on Tuesday, November 17th at 7:30 p.m., where he is giving a talk on his book about the Titanic.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. His latest book, Game OnYukon! was just launched.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ken Anderson’s Sun and Moon model sculpture sits in the snow as he carves away at the real life sculpture behind Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre for the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous festival in Whitehorse on Feb. 21, 2018. Yukon Rendezvous weekend kicks off today with a series of outdoor, virtual and staged events. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Rendezvous snowpad, live music and fireworks this weekend

A round-up of events taking place for the 2021 Rendezvous weekend

Whitehorse musher Hans Gatt crosses the 2021 Yukon Journey finish line in first place at approximately 10:35 a.m. on Feb. 26. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Whitehorse musher Hans Gatt crosses the 2021 Yukon Journey finish line in first place at approximately 10:35 a.m. on Feb. 26. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Hans Gatt wins inaugural 2021 Yukon Journey

The Yukon Journey, a 255-mile race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse, kicked off on Feb. 24

In a Feb. 17 statement, the City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology used for emergency response. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Three words could make all the difference in an emergency

City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology

Jesse Whelen, Blood Ties Four Directions harm reduction councillor, demonstrates how the organization tests for fentanyl in drugs in Whitehorse on May 12, 2020. The Yukon Coroner’s Service has confirmed three drug overdose deaths and one probable overdose death since mid-January. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three overdose deaths caused by “varying levels of cocaine and fentanyl,” coroner says

Heather Jones says overdoses continue to take lives at an “alarming rate”

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

The Yukon government and the Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce have signed a letter of understanding under the territory’s new procurement policy. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
First Nation business registry planned under new procurement system

Letter of understanding signals plans to develop registry, boost procurement opportunities

US Consul General Brent Hardt during a wreath-laying ceremony at Peace Arch State Park in September 2020. Hardt said the two federal governments have been working closely on the issue of appropriate border measures during the pandemic. (John Kageorge photo)
New U.S. consul general says countries working closely on COVID-19 border

“I mean, the goal, obviously, is for both countries to get ahead of this pandemic.”

Most Read