by David Lindsay, President and CEO, FPAC
Remembrance Day 2014 at the Cenotaph in Ottawa was one of the most poignant in recent memory. The tragic killing of Corporal Nathan Cirillo on October 22, 2014 at the war memorial had a strong impact on the city. Many buildings in the inner core, including the FPAC offices, were in lock down for hours after the shooting. Rumours of other snipers on rooftops and concern about booby trapped cars with explosives circulated over twitter and in the mainstream media. We were warned to stay away from our windows and ordered to stay in the building.
So on November 11th thousands of people from Ottawa and countless others from across Canada showed up at the war memorial this year, not only to remember those who have given their lives in battle and to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One, but to pay their respects to Corporal Cirillo.
Canada has a long history of military service. And, it is interesting to note that the forest industry and forestry workers have a long and proud tradition of service. In fact, stretching back to the first international campaign involving Canadian volunteers in 1884-85, there is a fascinating link to forestry workers and First Nation forestry workers in particular.
When you visit the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill the Memorial Chamber is an important part of the guided tour. The Chamber was designed and construction began in 1923 by John A. Pearson. The Prince of Wales made the dedication in 1927 and it was opened to the public on Remembrance Day 1928.
As you enter the Chamber through the archway on the second floor, immediately to your left in the first niche, the words “The Nile – Le Nil” and a date — 1884-85 are carved into the marble. This refers to the Wolseley expedition up the Nile River in Egypt to rescue General Gordon, the Governor General of the Sudan besieged at Khartoum. It is the first time Canadians travelled overseas as a unit to engage in a battle on foreign soil.
The link to the Canadian forest sector is a fascinating one. Garnet Wolseley was in Canada in the 1870’s where he first encountered the skilled French Canadian and Mohawk rivermen of the lumber trade. When it came time for Wolseley to mount an expedition up the Nile a dozen years later, he remembered these skilled boatsmen and navigators of the turbulent rivers of Canada. Wolseley wrote to Canada asking for volunteers who could help navigate the British through the turbulent waters of the Nile Cataracts. Over 380 signed up including 60 Mohawks from Kahnawake, Kanesatake, and Akwesasne, and several Ojibway from the West.
Author Carl Benn has written about this expedition and the story of the Canadian recruits in a book titled Mohawks on the Nile: Natives among the Canadian Voyageurs in Egypt. Benn’s book was published by Dundurn Press in 2009 and includes much of the original writings of two Mohawk veterans of the campaign, Louis Jackson and James Deer.
It is interesting to note that another much more famous author wrote a detailed account of the Madhi War. Winston Churchill was 25 years old and wanting to make his name as a war correspondent. He published a two volume account of the war in 1899. The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan was edited to a single volume and re-published in 1902.
In 1966 England’s Pinewood Studios filmed a big budget spectacular of the siege of Khartoum staring Charlton Heston as General Gordon and Sir Lawrence Olivier as Madhi.
While the story of the Sudan war and the siege of Khartoum has become the subject of books and movies, the involvement of the Mohawks and other Canadians in this military campaign has received little attention.
We in Canada are not a boastful nation, yet we have a strong record of service. The forest products sector throughout the past two centuries has made significant contributions to those efforts. This newspaper ad from the Second World War, published by the Pulp and Paper Industry of Canada, speaks to the industry’s proud contribution to Canada’s war effort.