By Anne Russell. A century ago, Fraser Valley families were sending their young men off to war, some with a sense of optimism that they would be home by Christmas, others with a taste for adventure and a desire to see the world. Some felt a sense of loyalty to Mother England and her British Empire that compelled them to travel thousands of kilometers to a continent they’d never seen. It was the first Canadian expedition to the battlefields of Europe. Women also joined the war effort as nurses or homefront volunteers.
The next four years redefined war, introduced a new level of carnage wrought by modern weaponry, changed the geopolitical landscape, and helped Canada mature as a nation.
Those who stayed home were affected too, including families and towns that had to cope with almost no men in an era when their labour was crucial on farms and in factories, and members of ethnic groups who were not allowed to join up.
This fall, the University of the Fraser Valley is looking back at this defining moment in Canadian history with Great War Day: Local Experiences and Legacies. The event will be held on Friday, Oct 3, in the Envision Athletic Centre on the UFV Abbotsford campus. Admission is free and the public is welcome. Member of the public are also invited to participate as exhibitors.
The one-day event will feature memorabilia displays, historical artifacts, military or civilian representations, local memories and commemorative projects, and personal stories.
“We seek to understand and appreciate the local legacies of the war by way of reflective exhibits, artistic or creative works, and academic interpretations,” said Ken Brealey, Associate Dean of Arts at UFV. “Our mission and purpose of this event is to learn about the war through the experiences of those who lived through it, at home and away, and to encourage critical reflection on the causes, conduct, and consequences of this catastrophic and transformative event.”
At Great War Day, members of the public are invited to:
Learn about how diverse groups of people in the Fraser Valley participated directly or indirectly in the First World War
Learn about the immediate and longer term impacts of the war on local life
Share with other Fraser Valley residents and communities their personal or familial reflections on the impact and legacies of the war.
“The core concept of Great War Day is NOT to inform the community in top-down fashion about the meaning of the war. Rather, the event is designed to allow individuals, families and the communities of the Fraser Valley to define the Great War in their own, often personal, ways,” noted Robin Anderson, an associate professor of history at UFV. “The result should be an eclectic and very representative presentation of the war that will include a public memorabilia display, open to anyone to share their family memories of the war.”
Local museums and archives from Abbotsford, Mission and Chilliwack will also be presenting their community’s experiences of the war.
“The centenary of the Great War is being recognized in a huge variety of ways all over the world,” Anderson added. “Organizers of these events have been careful not to suggest this is a ‘celebration’ of the war, since this was arguably the most brutal conflict in history. But all also recognize and agree that we cannot and should not forget the Great War. Few events in history have been as formative as the war between 1914-1918 — we live in a world that was shaped by it. Great War Day is a modest attempt to understand this enormously important event and how it shaped the lives of people in the Fraser Valley.”
Picture courtesy of UFV Facebook