Mr. Chair, members of the committee, thank you very much.
First of all, I would like to thank you for inviting us to talk to you about Operation HUSKY 2013.
As a former general in the Canadian Forces, in which I served for 35 years, and as the director of studies of this jewel, the Saint-Jean Royal Military College—I have in fact circulated information documents about the college and I would invite you to read them—I feel that one of my roles is to make the future leaders of our Canadian Forces and the general public aware of the brilliant exploits of my predecessors. This is why I gladly agreed to help organize the commemoration of the 1943 Sicilian campaign.
Seventy years ago, most of the 26,000 Canadian soldiers involved in the campaign landed on Bark West beach near Pachino, on the southern tip of Sicily, the so-called “soft underbelly” of Europe on July 10, 1943. This was the beginning of Operation Husky, the start of the liberation of Italy by British, American, and Canadian forces. The campaign in Sicily would last just over four weeks, during which Canadians from coast to coast would battle through hundreds of kilometres of difficult mountainous country.
The landing was the largest to date of the war and remains one of the largest in history with nearly 3,000 Allied ships and landing crafts. The troops from the 1st Canadian Infantry Division and the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade, commanded by General Guy Simonds, travelled from the U.K. to Sicily, and three of our ships carrying our troops and equipment were sunk by enemy submarines before the landing.
From Pachino Beach, our troops fought as they advanced. While constantly being slowed down by the German troops hiding in the almost impregnable hills and valleys, the Canadians formed the left flank of the British troops under the command of General Montgomery. To our left were the soldiers of the Seventh United States Army under the command of General Patton. My regiment, the 12th Canadian Armoured Regiment, which at that time was called the Three Rivers Regiment, because it came from the city of Trois-Rivières, fought for the duration of the campaign side by side with regiments such as the Royal 22nd Regiment, the Haystings & Prince Edward Regiment, the Royal Canadian Regiment and the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.
I cannot emphasize enough the skill, daring, and courage of the Canadians who fought through this extremely difficult terrain, which greatly favoured the German and Italian defenders. You will be aware that Canadians had been bloodied at Dieppe the year previous. A victory was important for Canada at that time.
In all, 562 Canadians lost their lives in Sicily, and more than 2,300 were wounded. The problem is that few Canadians and allies know that Canada was involved in this 28-day campaign, and fewer still know of our victory. This is where Operation Husky 2013 comes in.
I will let Mr. Gregory, the founder of Operation Husky 2013, give more details presently, but let me just say that this civilian-led initiative aims to commemorate the campaign, to publicize Canadian gallantry, and to leave a lasting legacy for future generations to remember.
We aim to bring 562 Canadians to Sicily from July 10 to 30 this year to honour the 562 men we lost, and to celebrate those who came back victorious. Mr. Gregory will lead a group that will retrace on foot the route taken by Canadian troops and they will commemorate each location where we lost soldiers.
Mr. Gregory has given me the task of liaising with the Canadian Forces and supporting the operation in every possible way. Today, some 65 days prior to the operation, we have already contacted all of the units that fought in Sicily or those individuals who are in these units today.
We have received moral support from hundreds of Canadians. We have received assistance from many regions of the country and we have developed a series of events in Sicily for the campaign. Several fundraising activities have been organized and we have also received assistance from Veterans Affairs Canada in order to produce educational material for students. Our ambassador in Italy and his military attaché have provided a great deal of support in organizing our campaign. Officer cadets from the Saint-Jean Royal Military College have used operation Husky 2013 as a way to integrate the skills they are learning, and, with the support of the Royal Military Colleges Club of Canada Foundation, four of them will be able to support the coordination of activities in Sicily from July 10 to early August. In summary, we are very proud to have this opportunity to talk to you about this Canadian citizen-led initiative.
Mr. Steve Gregory is a businessman from Montreal. He is not a former military man, but his passion for our Sicilian campaign and his everyday support for our Canadian Forces make him one of the citizens most committed to ensuring that his fellow citizens are aware of our heritage. I am very proud to include him as one of my best friends and I will be happy to travel across Sicily with him in order to commemorate Operation Husky 2013.
We have left a commemorative item on your table.
We also left you a pin, which represents Operation Husky. I'm going to let Steve describe these, and why they're so important.
Mr. Chair and committee members, thank you very much.
Mr. Gregory, the floor is yours.
Mr. Chair, committee members, like Lieutenant-General Maisonneuve, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to talk about our project with you.
I'd like to take this chance to tell you about what we're planning for this summer in Sicily, and of course what we hope to leave behind. Perhaps you'd also like to know who is expected to participate.
Before I begin, you may be interested in knowing how all this came about. In the fall of 2005 my mother, then a spry 80-year-old widow, brought a handsome, charming guest to a Saturday family dinner. At our prodding, Charles Hunter, bombardier, original 39er, regaled my family with his stories as a young gunner in the Royal Canadian Artillery during World War II. My dad had served in the air force during the war and spoke little of it, as was customary for most Canadian veterans after the war. Charles, now 83, let loose a salvo of information at that dinner that rocked our house. We, or should I say I, had never heard of the Canadians in Sicily. Each town from Pachino to Adrano has its own story of pain, sacrifice, and triumph.
Two weeks later my fine son, then all of 11, announced that his grade 6 history project would be about the Battle of Assoro. What a fine tribute, I thought; Charles would be honoured. After weeks of searching Erik was disappointed at turning up very little in the way of written testimony to any Canadian presence in Sicily. As parents do, dad got involved, scouring the Internet. Libraries and bookstores yielded a troubling impression. The British and Americans had liberated Sicily. At most, the presence of Canadians was mentioned only as a footnote.
I'm sure no malice was intended by any of the authors. Patton's U.S. Army considered us merely as a colony of Britain. Montgomery and his 8th Army saw us as part of their Commonwealth, and for all intents and purposes, at least for the occasion, as British. Proud of our heritage and eager to serve the King, we made no effort to correct these misperceptions. As a result of this self-effacing manner, a 23,000-square-foot museum stands in Catania, Sicily, dedicated to the Allied landing of 1943, and it has not a single mention of Canada and only two Canadian artifacts, smaller than the size of your fist.
That brings us to today and to Operation Husky 2013, a civilian project led by Canadians. It is a project dedicated to sons, firstly my son, who innocently selected this topic for his history assignment and by doing so provided the catalyst for this commemoration. The 562 brave Canadian men who died on the hills of Sicily were also sons. Most of their parents never read much in the papers about Sicily and the sacrifices of their sons. Most never heard about their sons' experiences in Sicily and any story near the account of history, as will be described in the book that our project is preparing. Most, if not all, were never able to visit the site of their sons' graves.
In the summer of 2013, 70 years after the battle for Sicily, we will walk the path taken by these brave men, mark the place of the fallen, and remember those lost on all sides. Our mission is to honour the memory of those Canadians who fought and those who died in Sicily by organizing, as Michel said, the return of 562 Canadians this summer. We want to raise awareness among Canadians and leave a legacy that makes it near impossible for Canadian educators to exclude mention of these events in their curriculum.
Our project has one main event and several supporting activities. An opening event at Pachino on July 10 marks the beginning of the campaign. It is expected that about 50 Canadians and local dignitaries will attend the event. We will unveil a 3-metre-high monument that we're building at the site of the landing. U.S. and Italian servicemen will be in attendance. The main event, in Agira, on July 30, consists of a morning roll call in the cemetery at Agira, followed by an evening recreation of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada pipe band concert that was actually broadcast on the CBC only days after the town fell in 1943. It was the first ever concert in a live theatre of war. It rallied our allies.
Between the 11th and the 29th this small group of participants will retrace the steps of the Canadian infantry regiments. They will walk 323 kilometres, and in all, will plant over 600 markers to the dead along our way. Each one of these markers is made by schoolchildren in Canada and in Sicily.
We'll perform 24 ceremonies, including six large ceremonies. A mobile museum will support our citizen outreach in Sicily and four regimental plaques will be unveiled in special ceremonies.
We will also open the new Canadian exhibit at the Museo dello Sbarco in Catania on July 31. The Ministers of Defence, Veterans Affairs, Foreign Affairs, and Canadian Heritage have been informed of the project. Lieutenant-General Devlin, Canadian Army Commander, has been briefed on the project. All of these leaders have offered their encouragement.
In addition, we'll leave as a legacy a network of Italian and Sicilian historians and educators who will be fully equipped to keep the memory of our men alive. A new book, and bilingual web-based materials, funded in large part by Veterans Affairs, will be available to tour operators and teachers, as well as students from across the country. The Telelatino Network has offered to produce a 90-minute documentary, of course, in Italian.
What are we still working on? We're still trying to raise enough money to fund documentaries in both English and French. We have funded the film crew, but don't have sufficient funds for post-production. We have a distributor, but no broadcaster at this moment. We have teamed up with former Senator Consiglio Di Nino to help build a monument to the Canadians who fell in Italy and Sicily, which would be in Toronto. That monument could be a reality as early as next year.
If you don't mind my being so bold, how can you help? Our success rests in large part upon the media that we'll be able to attract to these events. If you can help us get the Seaforth Highlanders concert on the airwaves of the CBC and Radio-Canada, we have the chance to attract the attention of every Canadian, as well as our allies, so that they may become aware of the tremendous contribution and sacrifices of our men. Any media coverage will also help us attract a broadcaster for the documentaries and this will help us fulfill our quest to get this amazing story into the hands of Canadian educators.
Lastly, of course, we would welcome your participation, any one of you, or all of you. We are still short Canadians for the roll call at the cemetery. Please join us.
In conclusion, few Canadians are aware that close to 100,000 Canadians fought in Italy, with over 26,000 casualties. Close to 6,000 men died. Per capita, that is more than any of our allies. Canadians from all over our land came together to fight in Sicily for what we asked of them in 1943. They fought for freedom against tyranny. They did and they punched above their weight.
They went unrecognized at the time, nor is Operation Husky common knowledge in Canada today. This project of commemoration may help us change that. You can help us spread the word.
My son's innocent questions were the catalyst for this project, but your influence can help us reclaim our history and honour the souls of the Canadian sons who fought and those who died in Sicily, so that their sacrifice will live on with us.
Thank you for having us today.
The German and Italian troops had pretty much eaten everything there was to eat in Sicily. Sherry Atkinson, the lieutenant who took the surrender of Modica, told us two weeks ago at our fundraiser that when their trucks pulled in the soldiers didn't feel like they could eat. They just gave away their rations.
Charles Hunter, the bombardier who inspired this story, who is on his last legs like your old friend Jiggs—and I'll have the honour of carrying his ashes if he doesn't make it—tells a story.
He was looking up at an embankment and saw two children watching him. He realized they were looking for food. He went to the canteen, had a peanut butter sandwich, made one for each of the kids, and brought them to the two children. The little boy started to eat his sandwich, but the little girl carefully broke her sandwich in two, put half in her pocket, and ate the other half. Charles told her to go ahead and eat. The girl said, "No. Momma". They were starving.
It's not just my Canadian brethren who were this compassionate. What's unknown is that after they moved on, the Canadian ships arrived days later and brought in tonnes of food and fed the Sicilian population in the provinces of Syracuse and Enna.
As the Germans were retreating they salted the fields. That tactic was designed to destroy the society's ability to regenerate. The historians in our little book will hopefully prove that some of the basic strategies we use in peacekeeping today were applied back then in 1943, as the Sicilian population was engaged to support the Canadians and our allies.
It is important to note that there are many reasons why we on this side in the NDP oppose this study, and a lot of it has to do with the wording and the fact that education is a provincial jurisdiction. Out of respect for your visit here, we will be tabling a motion, the second half that speaks to our position.
I had the opportunity during Remembrance Day to screen an episode of a phenomenal documentary series called War Story. In fact, the episode that we screened here in Ottawa was the Battle of Ortona. It was a phenomenal piece of work and there were eight or nine, maybe a dozen vets there. After the screening, each one of them—and this wasn't scripted, this wasn't planned—got up and they made a declaration. I'd say about halfway through from this group of vets, there wasn't a dry eye in the place. They were crying and we were crying. It was a phenomenal moment. For me, as a Canadian, it was a moment of profound importance.
It's important for us as we carry on with this study, and we carry on the debate about what we're actually doing here in the heritage committee, to remember that we're trying to do our jobs as parliamentarians. That job is an important job about democracy, transparency, and accountability, and these are the values that we asked young men and women to serve and to fight for. It's the same values that we're asking young men and women, and actually older men and women, too, to fight for today.
That's why it's important for us to get to the bottom of why we do what we do here in Ottawa, why it's important to have transparency and accountability and an open democracy. I wanted to make that clear. I'll ask you now because you've said, and it's true, that Canadians need to hear these stories and not enough of them are being told. You reference the public broadcaster as a key medium, and you also say that this isn't a role for government. This is a role for historians, and it's a role for artists and documentary filmmakers. So it's incumbent upon us, I would think, to fight as hard as we can to make sure those resources are there so that these stories can be told, and not only told but that we create a culture in Canada where they're watched, where the shows are watched.
I'm wondering if you agree with some of these comments.
The Canadian Museum of Civilization—soon to become the Canadian Museum of History—is, with our sister institution, the Canadian War Museum, the country's national repository of historical knowledge. Last October the government announced a new name and mandate for the museum, which will enable us to better fulfill our role in researching and communicating Canadian history to the Canadian people and the world. It is a challenge we accept with excitement.
Chief among our plans is a major new exhibition hall dedicated to a comprehensive, narrative history of Canada. Historical knowledge is embodied in many things. We are a museum, so for us it includes, at the most basic level, our national collection of historic artifacts, including everything from Champlain's astrolabe to ancient stone arrowheads to Sir John A. Macdonald's desk. We have the country's only large and nationally representative historical collection. It is usually numbered at about 3.5 million objects, a figure that could easily mislead as many could be best considered as scientific samples rather than objets d'art.
Let's begin with a brief overview of best practices in acquiring, preserving, and protecting our historical collections. As museums change, so do the collections upon which they are based. New acquisitions bring different perspectives to existing collections, new areas of research and interpretation are initiated, and the capacity to represent a changing society is enhanced. At the same time, old collections can sometimes lose their meaning, as expertise shifts and the museum's role in a larger society evolves.
A major challenge for any museum is to determine what items it will collect and what items it will keep, how the collections will be organized, and how they will be preserved for future generations. The museums follow rigorous practices for selecting and accessioning material into the national collection. Relevance to the museums' mandates and documentary evidence to this are of primary importance. However, costs and capacity to preserve and protect are reality checks when weighing the merits of any acquisition. A responsible collection plan includes the careful comparative examination of existing holdings and the possible refinement of the collection, to ensure that only the most viable material is retained.
The Canadian Museum of Civilization is a cutting-edge preservation centre with a great capacity to control environments, and provide security access measures and accessibility to the collections for research and exhibitions. We have come a long way from the days of the substandard, warehouse-like, satellite repositories of the not-so-distant past. So, too, have our knowledge and techniques for ensuring the mitigation of risks associated with long-term storage, handling, exhibiting, and lending of the national collections.
As central to our mandate as they are, objects by themselves tell us nothing. We need to determine what they mean, and that is the museum's real job: we not only preserve and protect, we also research and communicate meaning. In other words, we use objects—and other assets like images, archival documents and sound recordings—to tell the story of our country. The museum employs about 25 research curators, normally with doctoral degrees in history, archeology and allied disciplines, to research the objects themselves and their historical contexts. These research curators then work with other specialists in interpreting and presenting this information to the public. We do this using a number of media and types of presentations.
As a museum, the most typical of these is the physical exhibition. They can be permanent exhibitions, which means they can last anywhere from 15 to 25 years, or temporary, for a few months.
As a key part of our recent name and mandate change from the government, the CMC is currently planning our biggest and most ambitious such exhibition since we opened at our present location 24 years ago. This is the new Canadian history hall. It will replace the current Canada Hall and Canadian Personalities Hall and encompass about 45,000 square feet of exhibition space. For the first time in Canadian museological history, we will tell the comprehensive story of Canada from beginning to now. Louis Riel will be there. The conscription crisis of 1917 will be there, Expo 67, Champlain, the first Viking visitors to our shores, and the arrival of the first human beings at the end of the last ice age.
We have put together research teams who are working on the storyline and finding and researching objects, images, and other exhibitable things. We have also engaged museologists and interpretive specialists to work with the curatorial team on messaging and thematic development to help make the content come alive. We want a result that will engage and enthrall our visitors, to communicate to Canadians and the world that Canadian history is vital and important.
At the heart of the development of these products are the various needs of the audience. Knowledge and understanding of these audiences helps determine the best means by which objects and research can be presented in an engaging and stimulating manner. Across a variety of projects, the museum regularly conducts audience research through surveys, interviews, product testing, and other visitor studies. The application of these studies combined with up-to-date learning theories help ensure that the museum delivers a powerful learning experience as part of the museum visit.
The new Canadian history hall project is an example of this principle in practice. In this case an extensive public engagement exercise has taken place across Canada and online, consulting thousands of Canadians about what they would like to see, experience, and access in the new Canadian Museum of History. Currently, the team responsible for the new permanent exhibition are collating and reviewing these findings, which will be applied directly to the development of the new museum. We are also consulting with history experts through various consultative committees and brainstorming sessions to ensure that we get the right content, that it is factual and balanced, and that it presents different perspectives on complicated issues.
In the 21st century, a great deal more is expected of museums than the traditional physical exhibition. But even that has changed. Where 50 years ago a history exhibition might consist of a group of important objects with some accompanying text, we now seek a much more ambitious storyline, something approaching three-dimensional journalism. For the new Canadian History Hall, we remain dedicated to the physical exhibition as still central to our mandate. Only here can a visitor see, directly and personally, the “real thing”. Not an image of the real thing, but the actual first Maple Leaf flag to fly over Parliament Hill in 1965, or the handgun that shot D'Arcy McGee.
Our dedication to the “real thing”, however, is not absolute, and in a digital age so much more is possible. With smart phones and apps like Augmented Reality, we can program in a great deal of additional information that the visitor can access at will. We are already experimenting with digital applications at the museum, and you can expect to see a great deal of them in the new Canadian History Hall.
For example, the museum owns a small wooden carving found in an Inuit archeological site on Baffin Island. Carved in a typical Inuit style, this artifact, which is approximately 650 years old, depicts what is evidently a European, presumably a Norseman or Viking, wearing a surcoat or robe, with a cross faintly incised on the chest. Therefore, it suggests that there was direct contact between the Inuit and Europeans.
Visually this object is extremely unimpressive, not much more than 2 inches tall. Some of its meaning, its significance, can be communicated through text, of course, but with digital applications we can now do so much more. We can program in a brief interview with a subject expert, insert a film clip, add a map to show where it was found, or photos of the archeological site. We can allow the visitor to digitally manipulate the object or the image of the object, flip it around and see what it looks like from every angle. We can also allow the visitor to log comments or email a photo of the object to herself at home. And that's just what we can do now. By the time we open the new History Hall in 2017, who knows what may be possible.
A slightly older medium of presentation that has become standard is the website. CMC has a large and ambitious website featuring all kinds of information, including archived exhibitions. We also host digital exhibitions that go straight to the web, of which the largest recent example is the “Virtual Museum of New France”. It is just being finished and encompasses about 45 sections or chapters and 300 images, generally in colour. Many of these offerings are produced with the support of the Virtual Museum of Canada project at Canadian Heritage.
Another Heritage ministry program we took maximum advantage of was Canadian culture online, which allowed us to make available online many thousands of historic objects from our collection. Much of our collection is now available online to scholars, first nations, and the general public.
For the new history hall project we anticipate a comprehensive and interactive supporting web program, although we must admit we haven't begun to plan it yet.
Cyberspace isn't our only frontier. We also send exhibitions to other public museums, particularly in Canada, but also around the world. At any given moment we usually have about a dozen exhibitions touring the country, the largest and most important travelling exhibition program in the country. We also share expertise and provide loans to Canadian museums and international partners, and are actively involved in developing the Heritage ministry network of Canadian history museums.
For the new history hall we will also be working with educators to develop and provide content for school curricula. The Canadian Museum of Civilization offers a wide range of school programs that meet provincial guidelines and curricula. They are available for students from preschool through secondary school and offer interactive educational experiences in fields of study ranging from geography and citizenship to history and cultural studies. The programs enable students to learn about the people, places, and events that helped shape our country and the world. Programs, tours, and special event days attract over 40,000 students to the museum each year.
This represents a very fast and basic overview of what the Canadian Museum of History is already doing and will continue to do to preserve, protect, and enhance Canadian history at the level of a national museum. Thank you for your attention
As referenced already, it seems the focus of this study is to understand what primary and post-secondary educational institutions in the provinces and territories are doing about history.
Let's leave aside the fact that secondary education isn't in here. It does seem as if the motion was drafted on the back of an envelope, Mr. Chair. This is a provincial jurisdiction, and we don't feel this line of study is germane to our committee. We have already heard a witness say that this is the work of historians in universities, not of our government.
We are very interested in the ways in which we tell our stories and the access Canadians have to them, and that's why we have been advocating that we look into the impact of cuts to the CBC, to the LAC, to the NFB, to Telefilm, and in fact, the narrowing of the mandate of the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
We feel that there is a lot of groundwork this committee doesn't get to because we keep embarking on these kinds of studies, and the government side tries to frame this as a debate between those who love the military and those who don't, which is an outrageous framing of the debate and is an insult to Canadians.
So Mr. Speaker, I support my colleague's motion and look forward to seeing some sense being brought to this committee.
With a friendly amendment like that, our Parliament would probably look more like the Ukraine.
I would start by saying this, and I'll try to make this very quick because I want to get to a vote. In the beginning when this was first brought up I didn't see merit whereas I have seen it over the last few days. I see this in some of the testimony we heard today and the potential testimony of the future.
I like the idea that the wording can be changed at the beginning if it takes away contentious issues. By way of example, when I go around and speak to health people—whether they're nurses, doctors, executives on hospital boards—a lot of these people cite the Kirby report, which was done in the Senate. The Kirby report was not something that was to force its way into provincial jurisdiction. It was something they use as a point of reference for all jurisdictions.
As I said before, there are no provincial equivalents per se to Heritage, maybe tourism and maybe some in Quebec.
It's hard for me to say right now whether we should halt this because it's provincial jurisdiction until we see what it is we're looking at by way of witnesses. Now granted my motion was not successful earlier, so as far as witnesses go, we're not off to a good start, in my opinion. However, I'm patient. I'm willing to see what is out there.... I hope we'll change our minds on that particular motion because I see there is merit in that, plus other issues.
Folks, first nations are not here. It's a huge one and I think there are other elements. If we are open to adding elements of our Canadian history that are not mentioned or that don't even resemble it, we should be open to seeing that. When the report comes out, then we make sure it's not prescriptive in nature or doesn't interfere in provincial jurisdictions. It should be one that is an information piece.
The fact that we are endeavouring to do studies that make sense is nothing new.
I have often mentioned that when I sat on other committees, we tried to work in the best interest of Canadians. One example is the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, where all the members present felt strongly about the fishermen's situation. Those MPs represented ridings where there were a lot of fishers.
I would like us to have healthy discussions on important subjects. I think it would be unfortunate if we were to undertake this study blindly without counting the number of weeks that it will require. It is a relevant subject, but it does not need all this much time. We should restrict our study to a certain number of weeks.
Mind you, I do appreciate Mr. Calandra withdrawing the first paragraph. I think many people gave their opinion on that point. I would also like him to consider limiting the scope of the second paragraph where it mentions a study. The text is only in English. I have never received it in French. And that poses a problem, there is no denying that.
I will quote the paragraph that I am referring to. You are withdrawing the following:
||A breakdown and comparison of relevant standards and courses of study offered in primary and post-secondary institutions in each of the provinces and territories;
That is good, but we would like you to think about the amount of time that will be dedicated to this study and to consider removing the following words:
||A review of federal, provincial and municipal programs designed to preserve our history and heritage;
We would like that to be withdrawn.
This would limit the question at the federal level.
I would like this to be limited to federal programs and for a timeframe to be put in place.
Mr. Calandra, I would like to know what you think about this. I appreciate what you have proposed for the first paragraph, but we believe that we need to reach a compromise.