MONTREAL, NOVEMBER 26, 2008 - Schools and adult education centres under the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) marked Remembrance Day in different ways, with the team of spiritual and community animators assuming their traditional leadership roles.
Some of the highlights included Laurier Macdonald High School in St. Léonard hosting its first ever Citizenship/Remembrance Day Celebration called “Canadian and Proud!” The purpose of this celebration was to keep alive the achievements and sacrifices made by those who served Canada in times of war and peace, to engage communities in remembrance of these achievements and sacrifices and to promote an understanding of their significance in Canadian life as we know it today. Citizenship Judge Barbara Seal presided over the swearing in ceremony of new Canadians.
At three separate assemblies students at John F. Kennedy High School in St. Michel read poetry and reflections and observed a moment of silence. Cpl. Benoit Ledouceur spoke to Secondary I and II classes about the conflict in Afghanistan and the need to help the Afghan people. He recently returned from a tour of duty there. Douglas Sample, a World War II veteran, spoke to Secondary III students about his experiences as a gunner in Bomber Command and the need to seek peace. Mr. Sample brought along a large display of World War II memorabilia. At the same assembly Musia Swartz, a survivor of the Holocaust, spoke to the students about her experiences in the ghettos and concentration camps of Poland. Both she and the students were deeply touched by this recounting of history. Ted Bolgar a Holocaust survivor spoke to Secondary IV and V classes, recounting his experiences from the time he was taken from his home in the middle of the night, suffered through a death march and was imprisoned in various concentration camps until his liberation at the end of the war.
The students of Honoré-Mercier Elementary School in St. Léonard created a permanent Remembrance Day tribute to Canada’s soldiers who fought – and gave up their lives – in service to their country since the First World War. On October 30, the entire student population participated in a video recording – which was taken from the roof of the school building - in which they created giant shapes of the symbols of Remembrance Day, such as the poppy, the Canadian flag, a heart, etc. The taping concluded with a re-creation of a field of poppies, in which the flowers’ red colour was achieved by the students wearing special red embroidered school caps which doubled as a fundraiser. Parents were encouraged to donate $3 per cap. The proceeds went towards the Dominion Institute of Canada’s Memory Project. The recording ended up as part of a DVD that the school created, and was distributed to various EMSB schools in time for Remembrance Day. It was narrated by two Canadian veterans from the Memory Project, who also spoke to the students following the taping. The video can be accessed on YouTube via http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BV9ebBpFYpc.
In preparation for Remembrance Day, Grades 5 and 6 students at Dante Elementary School in St. Léonard were graced with the presence of three decorated war heroes: George Mann (ground forces officer, Sherbrooke Fuslier regiment of the Canadian Army); James Whitehall (tank operator and ground forces officer for the Canadian Army who landed in Sicily), accompanied by his wife; and Alex Hall (British Navy Veteran). These three men spoke eloquently and emotionally about their experiences during the war. Life was frightening, food was scarce, sanitary conditions were deplorable and there was devastation all around them. The memories of those days are etched in their minds forever The students were impressed with these stories. They dedicated their poems and thank you cards in appreciation of their heroic acts. The veterans lit candles in memory of their fallen comrades and a moment of silence was observed by all. Master Corporal Marco Mastantuono was also present. Presently enlisted as a reserve in the Canadian Army, he brought his helmet and gear jacket to show students how heavy a soldier's equipment is. The ceremony ended with an emotional video dedicated to Andy De Quo , who served as an airplane pilot in the Korean War.
At James Lyng High School in St. Henri, Secondary IV students had the privilege of marching with the Montreal Black Watch in the parade downtown, as well as watching the ceremony at Dominion Square. This memorable experience was organized by Spiritual Animator Veronica D’Agata. “Both staff and students felt so very proud to be Canadian, and we will always remember the sacrifices our soldiers have made and continue to make everyday in order for us to live in peace and freedom,” she said. “What was very surprising was the public’s reaction to the school marching, as they were not only applauded by random onlookers, but even mentioned on the air by Mix 96!”
Fourteen Secondary IV and V students from Rosemount High School, along with their Spiritual Animator Father Gerry Westphal, had the honour of participating in the day’s special events with the members of the Canadian Black Watch Regiment. Many of these Rosemount students themselves were members of cadet groups and wore their various uniforms. Two very special highlights of the day were the laying of a wreath on behalf of their schoo at the Cenotaph and marching with the soldiers as part of the parade. A particularly special moment occurred as the parade passed the reviewing stand. The commanding officer asked those students in uniform to do an “eyes right” and salute. They did so with a large cheer from the crowd of spectators lined along St. Catherine Street. “ It was truly a day to remember,” said Father Westphal.
On November 11 the students of Royal West Academy in Montreal West gathered together to remember, respond, and reflect at the seventh annual Peace and Remembrance Ceremony. Since its inception, the celebration has been organized by Spiritual Care and Community Animator Joseph Monachino. This year’s ceremony paid special tribute to women in the Armed Forces. Lieutenant Colonel Gayle Quick was the special guest speaker. Colonel Quick is currently the Canadian Forces Chief Nursing Officer, and is posted to the Canadian Forces Health Services Group Headquarters in Ottawa. She was born in Calgary, Alberta, and is best known for her work in aero-medical evacuation. Other honoured guests included: Grant Fabes, who is National Vice-President of the Air Cadet League of Canada; LIoyd MacIntyre, who is a member of the Board of Directors of the Quebec Provincial Committee of the Air Cadet League of Canada; Sergeant John Clendinneng, who is Sergeant-at-Arms with the General Vanier Branch 234 of the Royal Canadian Legion; and George Johnson, who is an 89 year old World War II veteran.
Captain Damien Kontopoulos and Ms. Della Robertson from 1 West Montreal Squadron, accompanied by several Air Cadets from that squadron, also attended the ceremony and provided the official flag party for the event. The ceremony included a special musical rendition of Never Let Go, as well as artistic displays, prayers and poems of peace, hope, and remembrance written by RWA students under the guidance of Mrs. N. McDougall. Music was played by the Royal West Honour Band under the direction of Ms. G. Purdy. The ceremony provided students with an opportunity to learn about, and pay tribute to the many men and women whose sacrifices have allowed us to enjoy the freedoms we do today. A total of $400 was raised and donated to the war veterans. The ceremony was a source of strength and empowerment for all those who attended, and enabled the students to understand that they can be instrumental in effecting change, and that they are connected to their community both locally and globally. “ Regardless of border, colour, nationality, or cultural difference, we all, as humans, pray for peace.,” says Mr. Monachino.
Col. B.J. Finestone, a World War II Canadian Armed Forces veteran, recounted his experiences as battle captain leading several tank detachments during the war to students at Elizabeth High School and Venture and Vezina Alternative High Schools in Ville Émard. Col. Finestone’s wisdom taught the students how terrible war can be, and how he will never forget his fallen soldiers. St-Gabriel Elementary School in Point St. Charles held a Remembrance Day assembly lead by Ms. D’Agata. A few “Spirit Club” members read poetry, reflections, and prayers - all with the important message to be peacemakers in their everyday lives. In addition, special guest speaker, Roger Agnessi, president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 127, also spoke to the students on how they have the power to help bring forth a more peaceful world through their own actions and contributions.
In light of Remembrance Day, Ms. D’Agata visited classrooms within Coronation and St-Gabriel Elementary Schools to discuss the virtue of peace – what it is and how to practice it in everyday life. As a final activity, each student got to find their inner peace through yoga and meditation. The children found it quite amusing to try to keep their balance during the different yoga positions, and many were relaxed after meditation, much to the delight of their teacher.
Students at Roslyn Elementary School in Wesmount heard from veteran Gordon Townsend, who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force. At Westmount High School, former astronaut and newly elected Liberal Member of Parliament Marc Garneau spoke. EMSB Commissioner Joseph Petraglia, a veteran of the Vietnam War, addressed students at Our Lady of Pompei Elementary School in Ahuntsic. World War II veteran Frank Stamway spoke at Gardenview Elementary School in St. Léonard.
Students and staff from East Hill, Edward Murphy, Cites Des Prairies, Mountainview and John Paul I High School took time to remember. At John Paul I Junior High in St. Léonard honoured guests, gathered to remember those brave men and women who were and are still called upon to defend our country and the great values for which Canada stands for, for over 90 years now. “The values of peace, freedom, democracy and respect for human life are a strong part of who we are as a proud nation,” said Spiritual Community Animator Rocco Speranzo. “Many have said we honour the past true, however it is impotent to remember to honour the present sons and daughters of Canada who are serving overseas particularly in Afghanistan .”
Membr of Parliament Massimo Pacetti told students that our next generation should recall past sacrifices, and those of present peacekeepers and continue to work towards peace. A total of six wreaths were placed in front of the table of honour and students observed two minutes of silence.