The Next Chapter

Roméo Dallaire takes the Proust questionnaire

Retired Lieutenant-General and Senator Roméo Dallaire on his greatest fear, why he feels a connection to the Knights Templar — and what makes him feel the most Canadian.
Waiting for First Light chronicles Roméo Dallaire's struggles with PTSD. (Random House Canada, Laura Leyshon)

Retired Lieutenant-General and Senator Roméo Dallaire recently released a new memoir, Waiting for First Light, focusing on his struggle with PTSD after witnessing the Rwandan genocide. Below, Dallaire answers The Next Chapter's version of the Proust questionnaire — which now includes some special Canadian questions to mark the country's sesquicentennial.

Tell me about your favourite character in fiction.

They're both fictional and historic — my favourite characters are the Knights Templar, who evolved in the era of the Crusades. The Templar are these knights and monks who went on the First Crusade and then remained as protection for the pilgrims who would go to Jerusalem. Others ran hospitals. They devoted their lives completely to those missions and to fighting off the Saracens and the non-believers. Those warrior-knights, to me, are my favourite characters.

What is your favourite occupation?

When I was younger, at my father's cottage in the Laurentian mountains where there were no cottages, next to nothing except lakes and forest and hills, my favourite thing was running around in the bush, nude. I thought that was the most magnificent way of life. I think now, it's just being able to walk in nature in places where nobody else has walked. In this country, you go 40 minutes from Quebec City, and you can walk in places nobody's ever been.

On what occasions do you lie?

More and more over the last 22 years, I'm lying about who I am. Meaning, the person I was doesn't exist anymore, and the person who is there is not the real one. So in an indirect way I'm lying about what I am. I doubt that I will ever find the other person, and so I make up this current one.

What is your greatest regret?

Seeing hundreds of thousands slaughtered, and standing there without an ability to stop it. Day in and day out, for months.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

It is the night. It's the darkness every night. The total immersion into that ink of darkness where every element of evil can invade you has got to be the depth and the horror in my life.

Who are your favourite characters in history?

I really think I was a Knights Templar. I think the real me was there. You've only got a modern version. I think that being part of that group of religious-focused but also warriors and defenders of people who believed in something and assisting them and committing yourself to them, to me that was the ultimate.

What is your greatest fear?

Never being ever to find solace from the hundreds of thousands of spirits that continue to haunt me.

What is your favourite place in Canada, and why?

I love Quebec City. I love the history of it. It's still a bit of a village. But I think my very favourite place could be anywhere really in Canada where there is a little shack in the bush in communion with nature and with nobody else around. With a fireplace and an absolutely horrific snowstorm outside.

What do you do that makes you feel the most Canadian?

I have walked the battlefield of the Plains of Abraham several times, and I think being able to walk that hallowed ground that we didn't have the guts to commemorate its 250th anniversary in 2009. We were all fearful of one side winning and one side losing and the political fallout instead of commemorating the sacrifices of all sides including Aboriginals and French-Canadians. I think being able to do that, in that particular place. What comes in a close second is watching the Canadiens beat the Maple Leafs.

Roméo Dallaire's comments have been edited and condensed.