Remembrance Day has always been very important to Canadians, but this year it is clearly touching the hearts of Canadians more than ever before. This year will mark the Royal Canadian Legion’s largest Poppy Campaign ever. There have already been 1 million more poppies distributed this year when compared to last. 2014 also marks some very important historic milestones for Canada with the 100th Anniversary of the start of World War I and the 75th Anniversary of the start of World War II. But at the centre of the emotions surrounding Remembrance Day this year are the tragic deaths of two Canadian Forces personnel killed on Canadian soil. Two men struck down in evil attacks only because of the uniform they wore in service to their country. We will remember all of our fallen on Remembrance Day as we always do, but we will also hold the families of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo close to our hearts this year.

Remembrance Week is also a time to rededicate our efforts to preserve our rich history and the stories of the service of over a million Canadians. Our history is remarkable for a young country and it needs to be shared with Canadians both young and old. We can be proud of our history and we must learn from it. I have long been passionate about Canadian history and our military history in particular. I am fortunate to be able to use my role as a Member of Parliament to shine the light on important people, places and events that help tell the Canadian story. The stories from the Durham region are often some of the most inspiring.

My predecessor as Member of Parliament for a portion of the Durham riding one hundred years ago was a Samuel Sharpe. Sharpe was a lawyer and militia officer from Zephyr in Uxbridge Township. He was a contemporary of Lucy Maud Montgomery, who wrote most of her Anne of Green Gables stories from nearby Leaksdale. The story of Sharpe himself is epic in the combination of triumph and tragedy. He fought at Vimy Ridge, won the Distinguished Service Order for gallantry and was re-elected to Parliament from the battlefields of Europe, but took his own life at the end of his war effort. Sadly, his story is not well known beyond Uxbridge and a few military historians and this is largely due to his sad demise. His death struck Uxbridge and its residents like Lucy Maud profoundly, but his story did not enter the national consciousness following the Great War. I have been telling the story of Sam Sharpe and have made it my mission to ensure we learn from his sacrifice. I shared the Sharpe story in the Globe and Mail this past weekend.

Read: Globe and Mail: “Why Few Canadians are Familiar with Samuel Sharpe’s Great War Legacy”

Visit: The Official Website of the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario

See: “MP O’Toole Launches 1st Annual LCol. Sam Sharpe Breakfast On Veterans Mental Health”

Today, I will represent the Canadian government at two special events. First is an education based event in Whitby with the Vimy Foundation. I served on the board of the Vimy Foundation before becoming an MP and enjoyed serving with Dave Robinson, a retired teacher from Port Perry High School who began the modern Vimy pilgrimage for school children. This pilgrimage program has seen thousands of young Canadians travel to France and learn about our World War I history. In the evening I will attend a very special ceremony at Osgoode Hall in Toronto, where the Law Society of Upper Canada will posthumously call to the bar 58 Canadians who died in the Great War. The 58 were law students working on their articles in Ontario at the start of promising careers when they enlisted in the military and later died serving their country. Thanks to the passionate efforts of a Toronto lawyer named Patrick Shea and with support from the Highlanders Society and Law Society. This special ceremony will show that their sacrifice is not forgotten by Canada a century after it was made.

I have also had the distinct honour this week to present special 75th World War II pins and certificates to our veterans from the Second World War. Our government wanted to mark this milestone by recognizing and thanking our veterans. Already I have enjoyed meeting with these veterans and their families as part of these special presentations. The Legions and seniors homes in Durham have helped my office ensure we recognize all who served. This included presenting a pin in Port Perry to a veteran named Mary on her 96th birthday.

Councillor Bobbie Drew, Mary Olaison and I
Councillor Bobbie Drew, Mary Olaison and I

It has been several years since we lost our last veterans of WWI and we must ensure that we honour and pass along the stories of service of our veterans. One such story I heard at the Port Perry Legion on Saturday night touched my heart and I hope it will be shared with more Canadians this week. Later today, 92-year old veteran George Emmerson will travel to Hillsdale Manor in Oshawa with two chocolate bars. The reason for this visit is a war story that George shares with clarity and passion. His unit was involved in the liberation of the Netherlands. As the Canadians advanced and the Germans retreated, the Nazis released Dutch citizens who had been held in forced labour camps where they were mistreated and starved. One disoriented and hungry man came upon George and asked for some food in his broken English. George cooked him some potatoes and sent the man off with two chocolate bars for his long journey to his home. After the war George returned home and has enjoyed a happy life with his wife Joyce. They now live in Whitby and 18 months ago were buying some furniture when he struck up a conversation with the salesperson. She shared the fact that he family had immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands after the war and that her family was so proud of the Canadian efforts in their homeland. This led George to share his story with her and before he could finish it there were tears streaming down her cheeks. “That was my father” she told George. Her father, Henk Metselaar, had told the story of the kind Canadian for decades following the war. When George mentioned the two chocolate bars she knew she was standing in front of the Canadian that helped save her father almst 70 years earlier. The fact that her family would later move to Canada nearby this Canadian soldier is uncanny, but I think it is divine intervention that led George to meet her and strike up a conversation while there was a chance for the two men to see one another again. George will visit Henk today with two chocolate bars and no doubt quite a few tears for everyone in attendance.

We are so fortunate as Canadians to have the wealth, freedom and equality of opportunity that was secured by the service and sacrifice of others through our history. In return for our good fortune, it is our duty to remember their sacrifice and preserve the memories of their service. This is what is at the core of Remembrance Day. I invite you to renew your commitment to our duty by learning more about some of the great organizations helping Canada remember. Lest we forget.

The Vimy Foundation

The World Remembers

The Memory Project

Canadian Virtual War Memorial

Museums and Archives of Clarington – “Clarington Remembers: Stories from WWI and WWII exhibit”