Thunder Bay soldier shares story to help students understand Remembrance Day

One hundred years ago this Sunday, November 11 families in Canada were once again reunited with their loved ones who bravely put their life on the line to fight for the peace and freedom we have in our country today.

Warrant Officer John O'Connor spoke to students in JK to Gr.6

John O'Connor is a warrant officer with the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment in Thunder Bay, Ont. O'Connor served in Afghanistan in 2004 and lost a close friend there in the summer of 2006. (Christina Jung / CBC)

One hundred years ago this Sunday, November 11 families in Canada were once again reunited with their loved ones who bravely put their life on the line to fight for the peace and freedom we have in our country today.

According to John O'Connor, a warrant officer with the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment in Thunder Bay, Ont., about 6000 people from the northwestern city went off to fight in the First World War and only half of them made it back home alive.

"Just by asking the kids some simple questions and them coming up and talking about mom and grandma and the rest of it ... that's why we do these presentations in all honesty," O'Conner explained, "so that they can have a story in the background and they can tell that story and the story carries on."

Officer O'Conner, who also served overseas in Afghanistan in 2004, gave a presentation at St.Margaret School on Friday about his time as a peace officer in the middle east and what Remembrance Day is all about.

"We see all the World War 2 veterans and there aren't many of them left anymore... and it's going to get to a point where we're going to be the old-dog veterans," he added.

O'Conner lost a friend in Afghanistan in the summer of 2016 and said he personally wanted to speak at St. Margaret School on Friday to help students understand why Remembrance Day is so important.

O'Connor said, three sons from Thunder Bay, Ont., died less than 12 years ago while serving our country. (Christina Jung / CBC)

"There's three young sons in Thunder Bay that died no longer than 12 years ago," O'Connor said, "and that's a lot closer than when we use to talk about a hundred years down the road and it's hard to relate to that story." 

Peacemaking is the virtue for November

For the past month, St. Margaret School principal Pepe Garieri said students have been practicing and learning about the virtue of peacemaking.

"We try to instill in the students not only to try to remember and exemplify what peacemaking is on a day to day basis at school, but try to help them show peacemaking at home, at school and connect with Remembrance Day and remember those who have fought for peace for us as well," Garieri said.

Near the end of the ceremony, students from junior kindergarten to grade 6 presented their Remembrance Day poems, songs and some even shared their personal stories about family members who they have lost in the war.

The Grade 2 students at St.Margaret School presented their Remembrance Day poem on Friday at a special ceremony. 0:33

"It's the most experiential learning that kids can have," Garieri explained, "when we connect to their own personal experiences, let them share their stories, [and] learn from them as much as they learn from us."

He said in order for the younger children to also understand and learn the importance of Remembrance Day, teachers started with a discussion about what peace means and looks like today.

"We really tried to make it concrete for them," Garieri added, "and that's where we go into the discussions of what peace is and what it looks like for them. It's quite different than a hundred years ago when the wars were fought."

Principal of St.Margaret School, Pepe Garieri, said students have been learning and practicing the vitrue of peace making to help them understand the importance of Remembrance Day. (Christina Jung / CBC)

He said in addition to learning about peace and what it looks in today's society, teachers also encouraged students to exemplify peacemaking skills when playing on the playground or learning in class.

"In the playground especially, you see them take care of each other if someone's hurt or feeling bad or upset ... they take care of each other if someone loses a mitt, a back-pack, it's so cute to see how much they care for each other," Garieri said.

"It's quite exceptional." 

This Sunday on November 11, residents are encouraged to attend one of the three Remembrance Day ceremonies across the city to commemorate those who fought for the peace we have today.