So I haven’t read this book. I bought it a few weeks back on an emotional high coming out of the “Alberta and the Great War” exhibit at the Borealis Gallery. The exhibit was fantastic, visceral. My senses were engaged as I took in a ‘to scale’ replica section of trench. Dog tags of the Albertan man whose story I was to follow on this journey held firmly in my slightly sweaty hand. He was in his forties and covered in tattoos, so the biographical information told me. Damn… And he joined with his son who was 18. Double Damn.
The tour through the trench, complete with artifacts and a soundtrack of thundering artillery that grows louder the closer you get to the front, ends with a spell on the homefront and ultimately the returning of the dog tags. I put the tags of my man in the cubby, and took a card with a note about his fate. Then I spilled out into the sterile atmosphere of the promenade and gift shop. I stumbled in, went right to the book section, picked up the book and didn’t put it down until I got home.
Its beautiful, the photographs well chosen and I can’t wait to pour over the maps. But I doubt I’ll read it now. After having seen Mr. Barris’ talk at the Gallery I’m disinclined to do so. Maybe I’m still suffering a hangover from the book on Western (Canadian) Alienation. Mr. Barris is a Professor of Journalism and very active with veterans. I really didn’t think too much when I picked that book up.
To be fair it does say right on it what its all about. Victory At Vimy: Canada Comes of Age: April 9-12, 1917. This book is about Mr. Barris’ opinion that Canada became a “nation” during that epic moment of the First World War. Its hard to agree with that position because he never really told us what he means. Maybe he does in the book, but he didn’t at the talk. And besides, there are lots of dates that one can point to that mark such a thing.
Aside from the fact that I still don’t know the parameters of “nationhood” are for him in this discussion, he relies on the memoirs of a few men who report a feeling of Canada being a “nation,” in the afterglow of the battle. I don’t think they bothered to define it either, but I’m sure it was more of a sentiment than any sort of historico- political analysis.
The talk about the actual battle offered nothing new, but I did appreciate how he reminded us that these were mostly young men drawn from the ranks of (my words here) the working class, farmers, students, etc. And just how devastating the losses were. It makes me wonder at how it must’ve scarred a few generations of people who suffered and lost. I know it touched mine and the effects still echo in my family.
But no mind. I don’t think I’ll be picking this one up. I’m a bit of a slug at it and there is already too much on the pile. (Including one dauntingly huge book by Vassily Grossman…thanks Mike.)
Anyways, the take away for me at tonights talk was that I should just steer clear of buying books when I’ve just been “carthartacized” by a museum exhibit.
edit: March 27th, 2017. It struck me yesterday that the first Canadian military engagement to draw soldiers from the regions of this country together in a massive way was not Vimy ridge at all. Hardly anything eclipses the enormous scale of WWI. But in 1885 the forces that the Government sent against the Metis at Batoche numbered over 5000. Proportionally speaking this number eclipses the modern commitment of troops in Afghanistan, and within a much tighter time line too. It was made up of soldiers from the Maritimes, Quebec, Ontario, and the Prairies. The crushing of the Metis resistance at Batoche seems to have been overlooked in the formation of the sentiment behind the writing of this book.