Story by Rod Charles
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor
Last summer the critically acclaimed movie Dunkirk was released. The film depicts harrowing events during the Battle of Dunkirk in May 1940 as cornered Allied forces struggled to escape the advancing German army at Dunkirk on the northern shores of France.
While Dunkirk is a riveting movie it fails to mention an important Canadian connection. So it is our good fortune that Parks Canada, through their Hometown Heroes initiative, has ensured one Canadian hero from that battle is recognized.
Parks Canada Recognizes Our Hometown Heroes
Commander J. Campbell Clouston of the Royal Navy was honoured last September by Parks Canada at the Lachine Canal National Historic Site with the first ever permanent Interpretive panel for Hometown Heroes. Clouston, who was born in Montreal, played a key role in the battle and helped save more than 2000,000 lives.
Lachine Canal National Historic Site in Montreal, Quebec: As piermaster of the east mole, a breakwater pressed into service as a wharf, (Clouston) worked courageously around the clock for six days while under enemy fire, organizing and overseeing the boarding of troops onto waiting ships. Although expectations were for 45,000 to be evacuated, the “Miracle of Dunkirk” resulted in more than 338,000 troops saved. The majority of those were embarked from the east mole under Clouston’s command.
The commemorative ceremony, complete with navy traditions, was attended by the late Commander’s son from England and grandson from Australia.
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The purpose of Hometown Heroes is to commemorate individuals from both civilian and in the armed forces who made unique contributions to the war effort. This brilliant initiative, launched by Parks Canada in 2015, gives Canadians the opportunity to read about outstanding Canadians and express gratitude for their service by visiting Parks Canada’s National Historic Sites, National Parks, and National Marine Conservation Areas.
Commander Clouston joins a growing list of Canadians who have been recognized by Hometown Heroes for their achievements during the First World War or the Second World War. To date, more than 25 Parks Canada places have taken part in the program and more than 100 individuals have been recognized on the Parks Canada website, at national historic sites or national parks in or near their hometowns.
It’s a fitting tribute to our beloved heroes to have their names and stories preserved with Parks Canada and it’s a fantastic way to give the red carpet treatment to courageous Canadians who answered the call and served without much fanfare or recognition. It also gives Canadians who may find travel difficult a way to express gratitude throughout the year without having to leave home to visit a national military landmark in Ottawa or France.
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The project is in its infancy and most of the stories can only be found on the website, but over time as the program grows tourists will be able to see more plaques, permanent memorials and ceremonies dedicated to local heroes who answered the call. Hats off to Parks Canada for a trendsetting concept that is bound to create pride in local communities and turn heads in the tourism industry.
Ray Coutu, Manager, National Celebrations and Commemorations for Parks Canada says their world-renowned places offer spectacular venues for these commemorations, where people are invited to gather, reflect on Canadian history and appreciate these remarkable and inspiring stories of accomplishment and sacrifice.
“In the delivery of Hometown Heroes commemorations, Parks Canada works with nearby communities, enabling visitors to experience Canada’s rich history and heritage in a deeper and more connected way,” says Coutu.
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Pascale Guindon, Parks Canada Program Coordinator for the Hometown Heroes initiative, says one of her favourite stops is Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, where Hometown Heroes are prominently featured as part of a special visitor attraction. These poignant stories of Nova Scotians are incorporated into a full-scale First World War trench experience.
“Presenting Hometown Hero stories, including the stories of Indigenous People and women, is done in many different ways at our places and nearby communities,” says Guindon. “This includes ceremonies honouring veterans, such as at Carleton Martello Tower National Historic Site during special events like the one held at Bar U Ranch in Alberta, and on-site interpretive plaques such as the one at Lachine Canal for Commander Clouston.”
Introducing Five More Hometown Heroes
Signal Hill National Historic Site in St. John’s, Newfoundland: Pte. Ricketts was awarded the Victoria Cross at 17 years old becoming the youngest member of the British Army in a combatant role ever to receive the decoration. Ricketts returned to Newfoundland after the war becoming a pharmacist and businessman in St. John’s until his death in 1967. Inside the annex at Signal Hill National Historic Site, visitors can find plaques dedicated to the site’s Hometown Heroes.
Bethune Memorial House National Historic Site in Gravenhurst, Ontario: Dr. Henry Norman Bethune (1890-1939) served in all three divisions of the Canadian armed forces. Dr. Bethune’s dedication to saving lives would lead him to many more battlefronts including in China where he succumbed to an infection on the frontline while performing surgery. Visitors to Bethune Memorial can see the First World War trench experience in commemoration of Dr. Bethune’s role during the First World War. It will be open again next year beginning May 2018.
Halifax Citadel National Historic Site in Nova Scotia: George A. Downey (1892–1969) was born in Preston, Nova Scotia. He enlisted with the No. 2 Construction Battalion and served with distinction in the Great War. For his service in the “Black Battalion,” Private Downey was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. Despite racial discrimination in the forces, he re-enlisted for the Second World War and served with the Veterans Guard of Canada, earning the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and the War Medal. Halifax Citadel National Historic Site is hosting a special event this Remembrance Day.
Waterton Lakes National Park in Waterton Park, Alberta: After the war began, Margaret Elliot Thomson McNally (1887-1987) became a nurse’s aide, joining the Volunteer Aid Detachment (VAD) in July, 1915. She assisted the Royal Army Medical Corps in the 2nd London Hospital (Chelsea) and then was transferred in 1916 to a military hospital in France. By the end of her service in 1919, she had been awarded the honour of a scarlet efficiency stripe which denoted competence. Thomson met her future husband, a widowed Canadian doctor and became his war bride in 1919 at Leeds and moved to Lethbridge. A number of geological features at Waterton Lakes NP were given war names to commemorate battles and military leaders of the Great War. There is even a Vimy Ridge and Peak in the park.
St. Andrews Blockhouse National Historic Site in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick: Corporal Motosaku Akagi (1897-1976) was stationed at Camp Utopia during the Second World War. He then served overseas with the 8th Princess Louise (NB) Hussars. Motosaku was born in Cloverdale, BC and married a Charlotte County girl, Romona Agnes Mona Homan (1918-1958). She was the granddaughter of the well-known Passamaquoddy native John Nicholas, a hunter, trapper and guide.
MORE ABOUT PARKS CANADA
Hometown Heroes: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/culture/historique-historic/hero