Canada·Point of View

Canadians of all races, backgrounds served in battles commemorated on Remembrance Day: Peter Mansbridge

The story is one of a nation that sent its best to fight a vicious enemy. Its best: from little prairie towns, and big urban centres. They were of all colours, from all cultures and all religions.

The notion that Canada's veterans were all white is dangerously wrong and an insult to thousands

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette participates in a wreath laying during the rededication ceremony of the Kandahar cenotaph at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. Canada has continually sent its best people, from all regions, colours and religions, to fight vicious enemies, argues Peter Mansbridge. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

A few minutes before 11 a.m. on Monday, I will walk the short distance to the War Memorial in my small hometown of Stratford, Ont.

There's a good solid early winter chill in the air this year, and there's snow on the ground. The past few years, we've been spoiled – late fall skies, fairly warm temperatures, and colourful leaves still on the trees. Not so this year.

But that won't stop the people. People of all walks of life, from all backgrounds, of all ages will make their way to the memorial. There will almost certainly be about 1,000 people there; it's a scene played out in cities and towns big and small right across the country.

For years, I spent Remembrance Day at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, with much bigger crowds and all the dignitaries you can imagine.

But on every November 11 broadcast, I'd remind people across the country that there were ceremonies just as important and just as emotional happening in their hometowns. The veterans, the crowds, the pipe bands, the local dignitaries: they may have been fewer but the dedication to the memory of those men and women who served, no different.

Like thousands of other Canadians, I have toured many of the battlefields in Europe where Canadians fought and where so many thousands died. They're buried in war cemeteries across the various countries where they engaged the enemy.

There are more than 2,000 Second World War burials at the Beny-Sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in Reviers, France. The majority are Canadians. Peter Mansbridge visited the memorial in April 2019. (Lynn Burgess/CBC)

When you enter those cemeteries they are a special privilege – you are on hallowed ground.

You can use the burial markers as a backdrop as you put yourself on camera. I've done that many times for special programs teaching Canadians what other generations have contributed to the world in which they live.

Or you can do something else, which I have done as well – many times and in many places. You can study the story carved into those markers. 

The story is one of a nation that sent its best to fight a vicious enemy. Its best: from little prairie towns and big urban centres. From law offices and dental clinics, coal mines and oil fields, hockey arenas and football fields, MP's offices and teachers' desks. They were of all colours, from all cultures and all religions. 

All of them. The notion that they were all white is not only dangerously wrong, it's an insult to those thousands who lie in the ground in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and so many other places.

People place poppies over lettering in the National War Memorial during the National Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa on Nov. 11, 2016. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press )

A simple Maple Leaf stands above their remains – they are Canadian. They volunteered as Canadians, they fought as Canadians, they died as Canadians and we will remember them all as Canadians. Currently, about ten per cent of serving Canadian Armed Forces personnel are members of visible minority communities.

None of those facts were mentioned in Don Cherry's Hockey Night in Canada segment on Saturday in which he said that he's seeing fewer people wearing poppies to honour veterans. In his comments, he singled out residents in the immigrant-rich cities of Mississauga and Toronto.

"You people - they come here, whatever it is -  you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that," Cherry said. "These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada." 

On November 11, we remember people from all backgrounds who continue to serve their country, some of whom were born here, some of whom arrived as new Canadians. To say otherwise is to not understand the country in which you live.


Peter Mansbridge

Former Chief Correspondent CBC News

Peter Mansbridge is the former chief correspondent of CBC News and Distinguished Fellow, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.