Montreal

West Island student off to Europe after winning Beaverbrook Vimy Prize

Selwyn House student Stanford Li, 16, is off to Europe in less than a week to take part in a special program organized by the Vimy Foundation.

Stanford Li, 16, will spend 2 weeks in Britain, Belgium and France learning about world wars

Stanford Li, from Beaconsfield, will embark on his journey Aug. 9. (CBC)

Stanford Li, a 16-year-old student from Beaconsfield, is headed to Great Britain, Belgium and France for two weeks to learn about the First and Second World Wars. 

He's one of 14 Canadian high school students to win the Vimy Foundation's 2018 Beaverbrook Vimy Prize.

A student at Selwyn House in Westmount, Li won the spot based on an essay he wrote arguing that the Canadian history curriculum needs to be more multicultural in its scope, in order to engage Canada's diverse student body.

"We need to cater to their heritage, so they care," he told CBC Montreal's Daybreak

Li's own grandfather was a Chinese soldier who fought the Japanese in the Second World War. 

As he started to research his own past, he came across a reference to the Chinese Labour Corps — something he never encountered in history class.

Li said the Chinese Labour Corps was made up of 140,000 men of Chinese origin recruited during the First World War by the British and French governments to perform manual labour, freeing more troops for duty on the front lines.

Stanford lives in Beaconsfield and attends the Selwyn House School in Westmount.

"They were hired to build trenches, man the factories, clean tanks — anything the Western allies didn't have enough manpower to do," Li explained. "Usually, they weren't given weapons to defend themselves." 

He said that's just one example of many groups that contributed to the war effort but have rarely received a mention in history textbooks.

"The sacrifice of so many different types of people needs to be recognized," he said. "How can we forget 140,000 people who helped win the war?"

Li and the other winners of the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize will spend two weeks, from Aug. 9 to 23, touring First and Second World War battlefields, museums and cemeteries.

Stella Begic, programs director for the Vimy Foundation, told CBC that being there helps bring the history alive for these students. (CBC)

"We find that history really comes alive when they are in a cemetery and are seeing rows upon rows of headstones," said Stella Begic, programs manager with the Vimy Foundation.

"The gravity of the first and second world war really hits home when they're in that spot."

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak, Valeria Cori-Manocchio

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