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Blog: Monday, November 8th, 2021

Principal's Message for November

Why We Remember 


There are months I remember more than others. November is one of my REMEMBER months.  Not because it's sunny or I love to pick up leaves in my yard all month (I’m at 40 bags and counting); November is memorable because of the things I have got to do that make Remembrance Day meaningful for me, as well as my family. 

Remembrance Day ceremonies are the job of every vice principal.  It kind of comes with the job. Once I thought it would be nice to research a name of the soldiers on our local cenotaph, so I drove over to take some photos. Then I searched online to see if I could find out about one or two of them to share with our students.  I couldn’t stop reading. By the time I finished, I had 75 files on Canadian soldiers who fought in WWI and were buried across the fields of Belgium and Northern France. 

My first visit was to Victoria’s oldest cemetery in James Bay, and we found two of the gravestones of our soldiers. We put flowers on them, and said a prayer of thanks. 

In our eldest daughter’s final high school year, we decided to go to Europe with our family and meet some relatives. I also decided it was a great idea to have our family deliver flowers for the rest  of the 75 soldiers, kind of a way to say thank you from Canada after 100 years.  I also didn’t tell them we were going to do this--until we got to the first cemetery.  It helped that we were 10,000 km from home, and dad had the car keys.  No one talked to me for the first hour.  

We managed forty-four cemeteries, four days, and a 1000 km of driving across northern France and Belgium, to give thanks to each Canadian soldier from Abbotsford left behind. Just so you know, there are thousands of Military cemeteries here, so it’s like looking for needles in a haystack.  My son & I agreed to film the journey, because we didn’t want to forget what we did, and why we did it. 

Film: https://youtu.be/Fu5UmJr3pCs 

Zwolle connects Canada to Holland with a visit by a single Canadian soldier.  Leo Major was a Canadian scout sent to see what Germans were still holding the town of Zwolle, Netherlands. He ended up convincing the German Garrison commander that the whole Canadian Army was on the other side of the river, and that they should leave.  They did. A Canadian soldier, by himself, emptying the town of after five years of brutal German occupation. Twenty years later, Leo came back to Zwolle and was made an honourary citizen and awarded the key to the city. 

I had several opportunities to visit the cenotaph in Ottawa on Remembrance Day.  It’s nice to see the Prime Minister up close, but my favourite part is talking with the veterans with all the medals, and asking for 2 minutes to hear their story of courage.  They always laugh, because they don’t feel heroic—they were just doing their job. They always told me the heroes were the ones they fought beside, but never came home. I keep a journal of the stories I collected, and I still share them with students. 

A few veterans shared their soldier experiences in Holland.  Andy Anderson was one of them.  An 18 year old in Holland, he was part of the Canadian soldiers who helped to liberate the Netherlands from the Nazi’s in 1945. His company slept on the grass between two streets, until a family invited him in to stay with them. It was the first bed he had slept inside for 4 months. They had a little girl with no shoes—it was very poor in Holland at that time.  He took a piece of paper and took and outline of the girl’s feet, then mailed it back to his mother in Winnipeg.  A few months later a pair of shoes were delivered for the little girl—by Andy, a Canadian soldier from Abbotsford.  This is one of the reasons why there continues to be a strong bond between the Netherlands and Canada. 

Have a memorable Remembrance Day. Lest We Forget. 

Abby Chan
Principal