My Remembrance Day Connections to UofT
I’m pretty sure the title of this post strikes most of you as odd, even for those of you that know I have a pretty long standing connection to UofT. UofT is where I started my career, my first “big kid” job outside of uni. First with the School of Continuing Studies (SCS), then with the Office of Teaching Advancement (OTA but now known as CTSI) and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. I have come full circle and now I am back at SCS and I even get to work with one of my original SCS colleagues. While at the OTA, I had the opportunity to teach courses at SCS on Roman art and architecture using Pompeii and Herculaneum as case studies for three years with SCS. I completed my masters of education at UofT and my husband and I were married at UofT’s stunning Hart House. So what does all of this have to do with Remembrance Day?
It starts mostly with SCS… when I started there, I was definitely the new kid on the block. My first day was the day after my 26th birthday, but admittedly, I didn’t really look a day over 21. My new colleagues came to learn very quickly that around Remembrance Day, I was fierce about making sure everyone wore a poppy and the fierceness (passion?!) seemed to increase with age! My friend Andrea was the first to coin the phrase “poppy police” and it immediately became a nickname for me. At work, my aggressive pressing of people to get their poppy on prompted me to explain myself: I go a tad nuts when it comes to seeing people not wearing a poppy and I reluctantly admitted that even my dearest friends call me the poppy police. After having caught wind of my nickname, Karina Dahlin approached me to write a story about my devoted obsession with Remembrance Day for the UofT Bulletin. I was pretty hesitant at first. It was one thing to be this intense advocate but it was another to have a story “celebrating” it- all I could think was how much my Gpa Mike would HATE the attention! With a little bit of gentle persuasion, I decided to go for it.
The timing seemed right in a way. With support from my boss Joan Gordon, I had arranged for the School to purchase a wreath in 2003 to lay at the University’s Remembrance Day service. Two years before, with great help from my mom, I had finally convinced my Gpa to apply for his Veteran’s pension, which required getting a copy of his service records. This proved a huge achievement because years previous, he had tried to apply for some Veteran benefits but was told that his war files were lost, that they had likely perished in a fire. This remains, even all these years later, a huge point of anger and confusion for me. Imagine my Gpa’s surprise in late 2001 when his war records, some 200 pages, showed up in the mail after having completed a simple application to the Library and Archives Canada. I was so ticked off I wanted to take the story to the local politicians for action as well as share the story with any newspaper that would listen. But again, displaying that modest temperament, so common amongst war veterans, my grandfather practically begged me to leave it alone, and I obliged.
In tandem with September 11th, getting the war files started the dialogue between my Gpa Mike and I that I had craved for years and years – he finally opened up to share some of his WW2 memories. How I wish smartphones were as prevalent in 2001 as they are today… how I wish I had his recounts recorded, not for documentation but so that I could HEAR him recount those stories over and over. So I made the decision to go with the short story in the University paper – it seemed safe and once it was done, it couldn’t be undone. Much to my pleasure, my Gpa didn’t give me a hard time for publicly declaring my pride in his service. He pretended to give me a little bit of a hard time but I could tell he was impressed that I had the guts to do something I knew he wouldn’t give me permission to do. When my Dad printed a copy of the article along with a photo of me with my grandparents and placed it in a frame, my Grandma hung it on the wall in the TV room. My Gpa allowed it to stay up for all to see. It remains there today.
My connection with UofT and remembrance continued with my wedding. By the time I settled down and found someone that could put up with me, my beloved Gpa Mike had passed away. To compensate for not having him with us on our day, my husband and I decided to get married on my grandfather’s birthday: January 22. We held the wedding at UofT’s historic Hart House and some of our most favourite photos from our day were taken under Soldiers’ Memorial Tower, in front of the War Memorial wall, or have one or the other in the background. Several such images are below. I’ve also included some amazing historical photos of Remembrance Day at UofT during WW2, available at UofT News website. We have the middle wedding photo displayed here in our family room. Under the surnames beginning with “M”, the name of John McCrae, the UofT student (MD) who penned the famous war memorial poem “In Flanders Fields” is visible.
Each year when we celebrate our anniversary, I remember the day with great fondness and tears of happiness. First and foremost, it’s about celebrating our anniversary. But if I am completely honest, I also think about the history of the building in which we wed and how it’s backdrop was so fitting of my love of military history and how it perfectly pulled together the love and pride my family has for my grandfather and his service.