Opting Remembrance: why we pander to the indifferent

Ask me to recount the poem In Flanders Fields, and I will most likely end up singing it. It was the first song I learned in Canada with my grade five choir, and the first time I  heard the words of John McCrae.


Since my arrival in 2000, every November 11th has been marked with a Remembrance Day ceremony. I have to thank Bonnycastle Elementary School for putting on a large-scale tribute each year, and teaching a young immigrant about what this day is all about. Fast forward to my years in high school, when a passionate teacher tells the class “…and Friday, we are going to be talking about Vimy Ridge.”

She teased this class like any broadcaster does a major event – a countdown to the epic, momentous telling of the battle for Vimy Ridge. The day it happened, she displayed proudly a picture that had been stored the whole semester in the corner of the room – the one that gave me chills to look at everyday before knowing, and still brings uneasy feelings after finding out: those ghosts are our boys.

“Ghosts of Vimy Ridge” William Longstaff, 1931

This same teacher took a class of 40 students across the ocean for a tour of WWI and WWII battlegrounds. These trips aren’t uncommon nowadays and for good reason. Fast forward to 2012: I interview a Saskatoon high school teacher about why it’s important for him to do this same trip for his students.

“…because until you stand in Flanders Fields, smell and see these places you just… it’s just – its life changing.”

 I understand how hard it is to recount the exact emotion. The day I took in the memorial at Vimy Ridge, it was raining the worst it had during our spring time visit in Europe. In the pelting rain, that same passionate teacher stood at the foot of the memorial and recounted her lecture. I never thought I would cry as much as I did that day – I actually ached for these people, and most of all for our young country.

Do I feel this intensity every time I pin on my poppy? No. But I do think “I am wearing this to show I remember. To show I am undertaking the act of remembrance.”

I know there are some who share these sentiments, and others who don’t. For some, the poppy holds as much weight as the great feeling of  having the day off. So I’m here to get back to the basics, back to what I learned at my first school ceremony: the best – and least – we can do today is remember.

Simply cut out all other noise, and think of all those we lost, those who sacrificed and gave themselves for our moment today.


Apparently times are a’changing and we just can’t let Remembrance Day go unscathed: we have to make it political. In Edmonton, some schools are allowing students to “opt out” of the ceremony. In a CTV Edmonton report, Jane Sterling with Edmonton Public Schools said:

“It’s always an option for parents…Typically it’s a really rare request, but in certain situations there are parents that would prefer their children not to be part of the Remembrance Day ceremony.

Sterling said students usually don’t take part in the ceremonies for religious reasons, and only applied in what she called ‘demographic areas’.”

I am going to parrot the view of another mentioned in the story, and many others in arms about this issue: Remembrance Day is not about religion. It’s not about whether it is right or wrong to fight. It is not about anything other than honouring our fallen, and those still alive today, for their service.

Why is that so hard to do?

The amazing thing about this day is it can be presented in so many ways – and is decided by each person in how they remember. So many of my school ceremonies stuck to the basics and encouraged us to think of our own ways to remember:

“We remember because we want to live in a world of peace… We remember because grandpa came back while his best friends didn’t… We remember because these men and women fought for a country where all creeds and races can live together and learn to accept each other.”

And yet some of these people, who would otherwise not be able to live freely with their beliefs, suddenly don’t want in on thanking those who shaped this very country. Therein lies the muddied water of this debate:

Our brave men and women also fought for the freedom of religion and freedom to express beliefs.

Okay, so let’s move on if you are adamant to make it political and religious and you don’t want to bend. Because it’s so far to stoop to offer some gratitude.


Yes, let’s hear from this motley crew. These people who just want to “opt out” without the guilt of being called out as ungrateful and perhaps just a little – spoiled.

“I think it should be a choice with the parents, whether they should celebrate Remembrance Day or just do other activities,” Parent Pam Fillion said.”

Just let that disregard for fellow-man and country dance around in your head for a second. Yeah, it still doesn’t quite keep up with the counts.

I think back now to that first ceremony and wonder what it would have been like to be excused from it all. Every moment thereafter would have been for naught: the Vimy Ridge talk, the trip. I wouldn’t feel the same love for my country; I wouldn’t be able to connect with my surroundings in the same way, with the same respect and regard for all I have; because so many of our interactions are based on the freedoms for which these men and women fought.

I wouldn’t have an ounce of the understanding of just how fortunate we all are to live in Canada. To have the freedom to remember publicly, and peacefully.


The silver lining? Apparently the “importance of Remembrance Day” is still being taught.

Well then consider it an already failed lesson, as these parents and now their children make it clear Remembrance Day isn’t nearly as important as “other activities.”

So this Remembrance Day I will stand even straighter, with even more pride along with my fellow Canadians:

At the going down of the sun
and in the morning
We will remember them

We will remember them.


For those who don’t know where the last passage is from, ask your teacher.


Going live and the living dead

When I was a student, I used to think the work load made me akin to a mindless zombie – get through this and then you can get some BRAAAAAIIIINNNNNNSSSS.

That was until I joined the real world and found out the demands of producing a product you are both happy with and within your capacity to create. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, working in a community station in a quote “smaller market” opens up many roles – and just as many opportunities to do something new and scary.

In October alone, I was fortunate enough to join the on-air team to cover the Saskatoon civic election. This would be my fourth election that I’ve covered in some regard (October 2010 – Winnipeg Civic election, May 2011 – Federal Election, October 2011 – Manitoba provincial election).

Getting ready in the truck – I guess an election is like a sport

Having done live hits for radio and web work in the past, this time it was the whole nine yards – going live on television.  I was set up in the council chamber with a computer, smart phone and a desk doing intermittent live hits as needed by the host providing feedback from twitter. I would also be tracking live results and the progress of other Saskatchewan cities.

Smiles before going live

In the midst of making sure I was prepared with my ward maps and my phonetics cards (which I threw out the window at one point, sorry Pat Lorje) I didn’t have time to get nearly as freaked out as during the infamous CreComm “Live Hit Derby’s.”

Despite almost losing power to my laptop (my whole raison d’etre as social media reporter) due to a damaged power cord, and almost having no contact with my director – ears are too small for even the smallest ear packs (custom buds for the win!) we did it: 2.5 hours of live television, with many live hits and tweets in between.

I can’t say it was flawless, but that is the beauty of live television – it’s moving forward, being confident and having some back-ups. After reviewing, I’ve decided my phrase of the night was “of course” (better than “um,” I suppose *shudder*) but most importantly, I learned a few key lessons I want to share with others (feel free to add more in the comment section!):

1)      Breathe and slow down: It’s so easy to start speaking fast to hurry everything up, but when you have to fill 2-3 minutes at a time, just you at a desk with nothing but some notes and tweets, slowing down is key.

2)      Have a number of extra points to discuss: and then double that number. Especially in a situation where you can’t banter with other on-air people and you have to fill time, talking about something like the new ways to vote in Saskatchewan offers some additional information to the cast.

3)      Know what you are going to cover: sounds simple enough, but I knew going in that as social media reporter, I wanted to supplement my cast and not just parrot it. I tweeted out results for the mayor, and discussed some tight races in the wards – but it was about starting a conversation I could bring to viewers at home.

Trying to compete with other media to “get results out first” seemed futile, as I was monitoring many different hashtags, responding to tweets and preparing graphics for my next live hit. Plus, my audience online was already following the results from the city website or on Shaw TV – so they didn’t need another reminder. Creating the conversation, asking what people thought of the turn-out, etc. proved to be a far more engaging tactic and made for good discussion on television.

We were also the only television crew doing live election results – so we were working together to present that the best way possible.

4)      Use your surroundings: Being the only one in the council chamber for the first while was eerily quiet, but then came candidates waiting for results, fellow reporters, members of the public, etc. Always a good way to start and continue the on-air conversation is bringing up what you see – “wow, candidate John Doe in ward 5 just shook hands with fellow candidate Jimmy Dean to concede his seat.” Sharing anecdotes about being there offers moments perfectly suited for live television.

5)      Do the best you can: it sounds trite, but as the second time I have ever done live tv and it being a mini-marathon of sorts – doing all you can and executing it the best way possible is all you can ask. Reviewing work and thinking about all the things to improve is the path to bettering “your best.” Oh and remembering all the things from Live TV Production with Joanne Kelly is also important.

As for the living dead part – Halloween came and went, but not without some fun! Having to produce a full Halloween-only show was a great challenge of being creative, and not so frugal with the overtime hours. We will be posting some of our spooky content soon, but I have to say the highlight was getting the opportunity to do some good!

Some of the media people in Saskatoon made it out to carve pumpkins for the Canadian Breast Cancer Society. And while my kitty-kat didn’t win any prizes, she was the first scooped up by a happy donor to take the spot on their front porch.

The highly technical carving

Happy Halloween!

%d bloggers like this: