“I have such good memories of the Canadians. I will never forget them. We owe them our freedom…” says Yvetes Deslandes
Reviews and recommendations are unbiased and products are independently selected. Postmedia may earn an affiliate commission from purchases made through links on this page.
In Flanders fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row. . .
Start your day with a roundup of B.C.-focused news and opinion delivered straight to your inbox at 7 a.m., Monday to Friday.
A welcome email is on its way. If you don’t see it, please check your junk folder.
The next issue of Sunrise presented by Vancouver Sun will soon be in your inbox.
We encountered an issue signing you up. Please try again
The words penned in 1915 by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian officer and field surgeon, still resonate this Remembrance Day weekend. And while no poppies grow at this part of the First World War’s Western front, the Maple Leaf flutters proudly alongside the French Tricolour, and Canadians are welcomed with open arms.
To commemorate Canada’s part in both wars, a newly created Canadian Remembrance Route, La Route du Souvenir Canadien, winds its way through Northern France and Normandy, from the First World War’s La Carrière Wellington, a labyrinth of tunnels underneath the city of Arras, to the huge monument at Vimy Ridge, to the Memorial of the ill-fated 19 August 1942 Operation Jubilee raid at Dieppe, and along the coast to Juno beach, site of the D-Day landings in 1944.
It’s not just Canadian flags that are everywhere, Canadians are everywhere too.
Emily Rebneris from Victoria, B.C. is at Vimy on a work term with Veterans Affairs Canada, which maintains the First World War memorial site, ceded to Canada by France in 1922. The UBC grad is part of the Canadian government’s Student Guides in France program. She guides groups through the trench lines and underground tunnels around the visitors’ centre.
At the Juno Beach Centre, the Canadian museum constructed on the Second World War D-Day beaches at Courseulles-sur-Mer, young Canadian guides are employed every year. One of them is Sydney Kadagies, 24, from Langley, B.C. She arrived in January this year after getting her BA in history from Kwantlen College.
“I can’t say enough how lucky I am to get this opportunity,” she says of her seven- to nine-month contract with the museum. “It’s amazing to be here.”
Founded in 2003 by Garth Webb, a lieutenant with the Canadian 14th field regiment, who landed on Juno Beach on D-Day June 6, 1944, the private museum is run by the Juno Beach Centre Association, a Canadian non-profit charitable corporation which receives support from the Government of Canada. Along with the students, three Canadian guides work here permanently.
“This place is Canadian,” says Juno Beach Centre director Nathalie Worthington. “And I believe every Canadian should come here once in a lifetime.”
The centre is also designed to educate young people about the Second World War and Canada’s role in it, with interactive exhibits geared to kids.
“This is the way the veterans wanted it. Not just a museum dedicated to Juno but a torch to pass on to the next generation,” says Worthington. “Every Canadian who has a link can find out what happened to their family member during the war.”
Of the 100,000 visitors the Interpretation Centre attracted in 2019, 30 per cent were Canadian, with half of those visiting for family reasons. And most of the young guides have a family tie.
As does Kadagies, whose great-grandfather came in August 1944. He was a captain with the Royal Canadian Engineers. “He trained with the army and volunteered to fight,” she says.
All 14,000 Canadians who landed here on D-Day had volunteered to fight at the front. The Canadians made it 12 km inland – the farthest of all the Allied Forces – freeing the towns and people from Germany’s occupation, under which 20,000 civilians in the area had died.
“Seventy per cent of the population here has family who were liberated by the Canadians,” says Worthington. Her mum and dad were among them. “The people in this area never speak of D-Dday as an invasion. To them it was a liberation.”
And for that liberation, gratitude is foremost here.
Three local ladies, who bore witness firsthand to the events, have come to the centre to recount their experiences and express their thanks.
Colette Legouix, of Bény-sur-Mer, was eight years old on June 6, 1944. “There were no combats in Bény-sur-Mer so we were not touched in Bény,” she says. We weren’t hit by shells.” But on D-Day she and her brothers saw something moving off-shore. “The sea was full of boats and lights and big balloons,” she recalls.
Maryvonne Morin from Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer was six years old on D-Day. Her family’s home had been requisitioned by the Germans. “The Canadians had been told no civilians were left when they arrived, and they kicked down our door with their boots,” she recalls. “When they saw the wounded children, they stopped. We were really shaken up. So were they.”
Yvetes Deslandes of Basly explains how she lost her little sister, just 14, when she was shot in a German air raid during the Occupation. Yvetes was 16. A Canadian soldier named Bob came to help her, then turned and said, “your sister isn’t crying any more, she has gone to the sky.”
“I have such good memories of the Canadians. I will never forget them,” she says. “We owe them our freedom, which we got back right away. If they weren’t here, we would be German now.”
She touches the red silk scarf emblazoned with white Maple Leafs draped around her neck. In her eyes, tears well. “I will love them all of my life.”
At Canada House in Bernieres-sur-Mer an association of 100-plus members has been set up to pay tribute to the Canadian forces. The beachfront home, built in 1928, was a beacon for the Allied Forces during the war, who were told not to shoot or bomb it, but to use it as a positioning tool to know exactly where on Juno Beach they were landing. It is one of a few remaining original constructions left standing along the beach today.
“People started coming by and peering into the windows,” says current owner Nicole Hoffer, whose grandfather bought the property in 1936. “Many of them were Canadian veterans returning to see the place they remembered from that time, so I decided to open La Maison des Canadiens as a place where people could come to pay their respects.”
The property now houses many artefacts donated by Canadian veterans and their families.
Hoffer has also started a commemorative ceremony to remember those who served. On June 6 each year bagpipes play as 300 to 400 people gather on the beach to light lanterns and throw flowers into the sea to remember those who fought for freedom.
On a breezy fall day on the beach outside the Juno Centre, retired RCMP officer Guy Pollock from New Westminster, B.C. and his friend John Crum from New Canaan, Connecticut, hold their own vigil. Both their grandfathers served in the Second World War – Guy’s was a foot soldier, John’s a bombardier.
“We came here to remember,” Pollock says.
Something, we should all do. Lest we forget.
If you go
Air France operates non-stop flights between Vancouver and Paris (CDG) five times a week. The train station at CDG has direct connections to Arras, the starting point of the route.
To avoid costly data roaming charges while in Europe, purchase Bouygues Telecom’s electronic Travel SIM Vacation Prepaid Plan. The pre-activated plan provides a French mobile number, downloaded electronically, giving you a range of services while travelling. Purchase the SIM directly online at www.bouyguestelecom.fr/carte-prepayee/vacation-prepaid-plan
The writer travelled as a guest of Atout France and Air France who neither reviewed nor approved this article before publication.
Accident came only seven years after a streetcar tragedy killed nine
Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.
365 Bloor Street East, Toronto, Ontario, M4W 3L4
© 2022 Vancouver Sun, a division of Postmedia Network Inc. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution, transmission or republication strictly prohibited.