Never again

Uxbridge Secondary School students pose in front of German gun emplacement during their field trip to D-Day beaches in France.

They all looked sharp in their specially tailored commemorative jackets. They responded to the atmosphere of being away from home on a field trip with not unexpected exuberance; they looked pretty pumped. But when several of them spoke publicly the other night in Ypres, Belgium, I could tell these teenagers had changed even in the few days we’ve been away.

One of them, Sam Futhy, a Grade 10 student from Uxbridge Secondary School, noted a visit to one of the Great War cemeteries.

“When I saw the number of grave stones,” he said. “I don’t know. It just hit me.”

What is the benefit?

Scrabble With The Stars competitors (l-r) Charlotte Moore, Dorcas Beaton and Alan Gotlib. Photo from Performing Arts Lodges, Toronto. April 25, 2016.
Scrabble With The Stars competitors (l-r) Charlotte Moore, Dorcas Beaton and Alan Gotlib. Photo from Performing Arts Lodges, Toronto. April 25, 2016.

It was that time of the night. The host had told plenty of jokes. The volunteers had completed most of the preparations. The event was unfolding the way most had hoped. Even the chair of the fundraising committee had a smile on her face. It was time for the pitch. So, out came the president of the charity that was the beneficiary of the evening to speak.

“Time to dig deep folks,” he said. “It’s why we’re here, right? To make some money.”

Making history then and now

Tish MacDonald gives her students - bound for Vimy next year - last minute instructions for their Sam Sharpe Gala. April 15, 2016.
Tish MacDonald gives her students – bound for Vimy next year – last minute instructions for their Sam Sharpe Gala. April 15, 2016.

Sometimes, achievement comes in very small packages. And sometimes it arrives when you least expect it. In this case, a friend of mine, a teacher who’s been working diligently to pull together a major event this weekend, was in the middle of something else. Suddenly, one of her students interrupted to show her his latest piece of work.

“He was completely covered in sawdust,” my teacher friend Tish MacDonald said, “and he showed me this wooden silhouette he’d been working on. It was incredible.”

The silhouette is the outline of a soldier, a First World War Canadian soldier, whose figure will join the décor and displays that, in a few days, will transform the local high school in Uxbridge, Ont., into the site of “The Samuel S. Sharpe Gala” fundraiser.

Youth Day

Moderating one of several candidates' debates (photo by Vanessa Brown).
Moderating one of several candidates' debates (photo by Vanessa Brown).

This was perhaps his only opportunity to address the electorate in a debate for the 2010 municipal election. His competitors for councillor in the ward were in the public hall in person. But municipal candidate Joe Amarelo could not be present. A family emergency had forced him to miss the event. He did, nevertheless, have an impact on the meeting. A statement he’d written was read.

“I see unresolved issues in our town, including vandalism,” Amarelo’s statement read. “It’s important to … create a dialogue. Why not have a Youth Day?”

Teacher as student of living history

It was probably the final phone call she made last Sunday night. I’m sure that she had been dealing with a myriad of errands. I imagine that she’d probably checked her to-do list a hundred times. I know for a fact that she had responded to a long list of messages from fellow teachers, her principal and concerned parents. After all, she was about to lead more than 60 students from Uxbridge Secondary School on a 10-day-long trip into history. Nevertheless, U.S.S. instructor Tish MacDonald phoned me.

“Just wanted to say thanks,” she said on the phone. “We’re down to the last few hours before we take off for Holland. Everybody’s all fired up.”