Mr. Speaker, the passing of John “Jack” Babcock, Canada’s last known veteran of the first world war, in February reminded us of one of the most important chapters in our nation’s history and reinforced our duty to remember those who served.
When war broke out in Europe, an astonishing number of young Canadians took up the fight for freedom on distant shores.
Between 1914 and 1918 an entire generation of Canada's finest saw a threat to basic human rights. They volunteered to meet it and they defeated it in a magnificent and uniquely Canadian way.
More than 650,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders served alongside allied forces—fighting to protect the peace and freedom we enjoy today. Of those, more than 68,000 gave their lives and another 170,000 would be wounded. They were innovative and independent. Nothing was impossible.
Battling trench foot and shell shock, they led the events that captured Vimy Ridge 93 years ago this Friday, April 9. The victory at Vimy Ridge is considered Canada's coming of age as a nation.
Despite suffering the difficult hardships of trench warfare, they survived the horrors of Ypres and Passchendaele.
And despite the fact that casualties sometimes numbered in the thousands in a single day, their ideals and beliefs spurred them on so that they could later build a nation that is strong, free and proud.
They propelled Canada onto the international stage. They were known around the world for their unparalleled contributions and accomplishments during the war effort.
Winston Churchill once said:
Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarante2s all others.
The courage of this generation of Canadians guaranteed not only those other human qualities but also shaped the spirit of our great nation.
After the war, they came home, married and raised families. The started businesses. They returned to fields and forest, to factories and mines. These extraordinary Canadians returned to their daily lives and built a great country.
Their sense of duty and service laid the foundation for which Canadians have become known around the world. They changed the lives of a generation of Canadians and the lives of generations to come. Our economy progressed and grew. Our social fabric evolved and our population became more multicultural thanks to this generation.
They gave Canadians a stronger sense of national identity and pride.
Their personal sacrifice led to the greater good of humankind and gave this country the beginnings of the cohesive, modern military we have today. And although we mourn the passing of the last living link to this generation, we must take a moment for reflection and then look forward.
Nearly a century after the First World War ended, Canada is a strong and vigorous nation.
It is the duty of all Canadians to appreciate, really and truly appreciate, the freedoms we are blessed with today.
Today, together with the Prime Minister, I had the opportunity to sign the Book of Reflection in a tribute to the men and women who played a role in the Great War, and add these few words, “In homage to the 68,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders who made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives so that we might live to see better days.”
These books are located in many areas of the country for Canadians to sign, as well. They are part of a larger commemoration that honours and remembers those who have gone before us. On April 9—Vimy Ridge Day—commemorative services will be held at the National War Memorial here in Ottawa, as well as in many cities across Canada. These ceremonies offer Canadians the opportunity to take a moment and salute all those who died in service to this country so that we may enjoy the values of a democratic society.
Let us not forget that freedom must not be taken for granted. It is still under threat. One only need watch the evening news to know that conflict continues around the world and that, in every instance, freedom is threatened.
It is my sincere hope that our citizens mark this important milestone in this nation's continuing history and heritage by signing a book of reflection.
That is the very best tribute we could ever pay to what I would call “Canada's greatest generation.” I say to my colleagues on both sides of the House of Commons today, that I am very proud to be part of a Canada that remembers the First World War.