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The Story is in the Wood!

“ As far as I could see, south, north along the ridge, there were the Canadians. And I experienced my first full sense of nationhood”. ~ ...

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Capturing the History

Over the next few months I will be adding bits of information and stories to help capture the history and scale of the Vimy and the First World War.  To start this off I created a visual representation of Canada's losses in conflicts since 1899.  I hope you can get a sense of the massive loss of life from this graphic.
  With those number in mind read the blog post 'Scratching the Surface of Sacrifice' and remember that each one of these soldiers where individuals just like you and I.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Early Concepts

Here is an early concept for the Vimy Flute.  The symbolism is straightforward though I would like to hear some ideas from you.  Feel free to leave comments here, Facebook, or Twitter.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Taking Form

         Using Remembrance Day as the symbolic launch for the Vimy Flute, Stephen took to his workshop to start the process of making the flute. I feel it is a fitting gesture to start the work on this day.  When Stephen works with the wood he allows the process to flow naturally resulting in a unique sound and look for every flute he makes. I am very excited to see what the Vimy flutes final form will be. 
What I do know is this flute will be something special, as well as a worthy tribute to our Canadian Soldiers.  The Flute is now nearing the end of its 100 year journey back to Vimy for the 9th of April, 2017. 
On this day when the flute plays out over Vimy ridge, it will be 100 years since Lt. Leslie Miller picked up the acorn and started the journey of the flute.  Over the next few months we will keep you updated as Stephen works on the flute.  Please keep checking back for updates.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Scraping the Surface of Sacrifice

It is just over 9 years ago when Cpl. Nathan Hornburg was killed in action in Afghanistan as he was attempting to help his fellow soldiers whose vehicle was disabled.  I had worked several times
with Nathan, and though I was not particularly close with him, I was rattled by his death.  He was the first person I knew directly that was killed in Afghanistan.  During his funeral I was overwhelmed with emotion as I witnessed the pain experienced by his family and friends.  I specifically remember hearing about all his different interests and aspirations. I was taken aback by how similar my own aspirations and interests where to his.  That Remembrance Day in 2007 I found myself sharing drinks with a few of Nathan’s close friends.  We were engaged in rare conversations about the difficulties and pain experienced since Nathan’s death.  I was trying to help normalize the feelings being experienced.  Afterwards I was thanked for the conversation as it had been particularly hard for one of them to open up about his feeling.  I was unsettled by this experience and started evaluating aspects of my life and my service. However, I adapted back into the routine of life until I was once again brought face to face with this same situation in 2008.
                May 2008 we were delivered the news about the death of Cpl. Michael Starker.  This experience played out just like Nathan's story.  Having

worked with Starker in the past I was struck by the loss and pain experienced by those close to him.  He left his wife and family as well as many friends behind. One of my good friends was particularly close to him and was in Afghanistan with him at the time.  To this day he struggles with this loss.  It was at the funeral for Starker where we all formed up behind an ambulance and marched with him past city hall.  As we
worked our way along the streets the Calgary Fire Department draped a massive Canadian Flag from their trucks high up across the road.  As I crossed under the Canadian Flag I was struck by the thought that… “I have only scraped the surface of sacrifice”.  Less than a year later we would lose another, Sgt. George Miok.
                Sgt. Miok was my age and was killed in December of 2009.  Miok was part of my sister unit in Edmonton and we had worked closely with him.  The entire unit felt the sting of his loss. 
Miok’s death echoed the experience of losing Hornburg and Starker.  This was third time seeing the loss and the pain carried by loved ones and friends.  Even now I am seized by emotion as I write this blog, for I know that once again I am only scraping the surface of the sacrifice experienced by others.  These and all other Canadian Soldiers throughout time have not just sacrificed their lives, they sacrificed their aspirations, their dreams, and the hearts of their loved one which break upon their departures.  I cannot for a second pretend to touch upon the immensity of this experience.  When I attempt to empathise with one of these fallen soldiers and their families I am overwhelmed with sadness.  This sadness is a fraction of what they experience. 
“Lest we forget” for me is about attempting to connect with the unimaginable pain experienced by so many through the loss of just one soldier.  We must not forget the immense sacrifice they gave for their brothers in arms, the mission, their Country and the world.  I challenge you to consider battles such as Vimy, where 3,598 lost their lives in one day or how in the First World War more than 60,000 lost their lives.  Now think of Hornburg, Starker, or Miok and multiply that loss by 60,000 and you will see it is only humanly possible to ‘scrape the surface of sacrifice’.
                This Remembrance Day I hope you to will try to ‘scrape the surface of sacrifice’ and connect with the massive loss experienced by our Canadian soldiers and their families.  I hope you can step back from the media and video games that glorify war and recognize the dulling effect they have on our empathetic responses towards war.  I hope you can engage in active remembrance by learning about a story of someone connected to you or even a complete stranger.  Without this effort to actively remember we run the very real risk of repeating the choices of the past and subjecting our future generations to pay a debt which has already been paid in full.
I hope that through the creation of the Vimy Flute I can honor the sacrifice of all Canadian Solders and help other ‘scrape the surface of sacrifice’ with me.  May we create the better future which so many have sacrificed so much for.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

The Craftsmen and Artist

The man with the all the skill
Stephen Rensink
Maya Angelou once said “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” I attribute this quote to only those I feel who an personify it. I would like to introduce such an individual, Stephen Rensink.  Stephen is a former school teacher who truly leaves you feeling better about yourself when you meet with him.  I can imagine that this was the impact he had on his students as well. On a side note Stephen is a great team player as he really did not want me to put his picture online but let me do it regardless.  Keep that reluctance in mind because when asked he was willing to meet with CTV News to talk about his work and the Vimy flute… if that’s not a team player, I don’t know who is.
A Makwa Drone Flute
Made by Stephen
Stephen is the key player in this story as it is his craftsmanship and hard work that will forge the flute from the Vimy Oak.  When you visit Stephen’s website (http://makwaflutes.ca/) or Facebook page Makwa Flutes you will see that he “…is committed to working closely with clients to create custom made flutes with a story”.  Stephen has demonstrated his commitment to this mission as he has volunteered his time to build the Vimy Flute and thus bring the story of the flute to being. This is a testament to the high quality person Stephen is.  Though nether Stephen or myself come from a Frist Nations heritage Stephen feels that his ability to make the Native American Flute is a gift to which he is very grateful for.  Stephen does not look to appropriate any aspect of First Nations culture rather he strives to promote cultural awareness and connection through his art.  Similarly I have found the Native American Flute to be a powerful median of self expression and am grateful for my ability to play the instrument. Throughout the process of making the flute Stephen will be sending me pictures and even sound clips so that I can update you on the flutes progress.  I am so grateful to have met this man and look forward to where this project will go. 

All stories often have a key connecting players that enable the story to happen.  For the Vimy Oaks it is Monty McDonald and his dedication to the memory of his friend Leslie Miller.  For the Vimy flute it is David Bouchard.  Though I have only had very limited conversation with David I am so grateful for him. David is a speaker, author, and writer who discovered his Metis ancestry and
David Bouchard Picture from
dedicated himself to actively sharing his heritage and inherited memories for the benefit of others.  As a result of his work David has become significant figure in the greater Canadian community.   With the inclusion of art, music, and poetry to his work he makes his messages accessible to everyone.  It is the accessibility of his work that has earned him the accolades and awards he is often recognized for.  Check out his website at http://davidbouchard.com/ . 
It was about 2 years ago when I was trying to find a good quality flute maker (not a simple task I promise you).  I found out David played the flute so I decided to email him one day.  I was taken by surprise as David quickly responded and engaged with me.  He introduced me to Stephen which has ultimately led me to now and being on the verge of fulfilling a long time dream of mine.  I encourage you to check out Stephen’s website http://makwaflutes.ca/ and click on the about page, here you will find out how Stephen met David himself.  In all I am very grateful to David for taking his time to engage with and help out a random stranger.  Both David and Stephen have reinforced my belief that the right people come into your life at the right time.  The only thing that is required of you is to follow your inspiration with integrity and life will respond to that passion with the guidance you need.
Here are some examples of Stephen's work:

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Why I Play the Flute

       I am far from a professional flute player though it is something I truly enjoy.  What is nice about the Native American Flute is that it does not require you to be a professional.  What is necessary to play this instrument is just to be able to sit, be with it, and let the music flow from your heart.  With this said I do recognize it is not a common thing to find someone who plays a Native American Flute nor would I think it is common to find a former Soldier playing a ‘flute’.  I do not come from a First Nation heritage though I have come to respect the flute for what it is and  respect the cultural significance it has for First Nations people. I picked up this instrument when I was going to school in British Columbia 7 years ago.  Two of the ladies in my class played the  flute and I was immediately drawn to its calming and hunting sound.  I was gifted a flute and it quickly became my primary outlet to deal with the stress of school, the military, and life at that time.  I would often find myself taking brakes from my studies to go to the school’s gardens to play by the pond.  It was hear that I learned to play and more importantly express myself through the instrument.  Ever since I continue to take my flute out and play it as a way to de-stress and reconnect. 

Royal Roads gardens where I
first played the flute
The song ‘Amazing Grace’ is a song I learned right away, as I have always loved the meaning and depth to this song.  It is a very special song to me as I have played for several of my loved ones who have passed.  Playing the flute at Vimy to honor the soldiers who sacrificed so much throughout the World Wars, is something that has called to me ever since picking the flute up 7 years ago.  My plan so far is to take the Vimy flute that Stephen is making and finding a place on the Vimy Memorial at some point on April 9th, 2017.  I will play ‘Amazing Grace’ through the wood of the Vimy Oak.  I hope that by sharing my journey, you and others will learn a little about how the battle of Vimy ridge forged our Canadian identity and to remind us all that it came at an incredibly high cost.  May we never forget.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Finding the Flute

Monty with his anti squirrel
acorn protector AKA "The Snake"

After some networking, Stephen and I were able to connect with Monty.  I have to say that Monty is wonderful and very willing to help.  It made me very happy to hear Monty say this project was “a very appropriate commemoration project” and that he was willing to help us find the wood we needed to make the flutes.  Just yesterday Monty and Stephen spent 2.5 hours searching for the perfect wood for the flute and any extra acorns for the living memorial.  I have attached picture from their day to which I wish I could have been there, however living across the country is a bit of a barrier.  I am happy to say that the wood for the flute has been found.

The Flute from
the start

The Story is in the Wood!

As far as I could see, south, north along the ridge, there were the Canadians. And I experienced my first full sense of nationhood”.
~ Leftenant Gregory Clark, M.C.

Lt. Leslie Miller
April 9th, 1917 on Vimy Ridge, Lt. Clark was one of 150,000 Canadian soldiers who were starting to grasp the  significance of the battle they just fought.  It was the first major British victory in 32 months and more over, Vimy Ridge was believed to be an impossible objective to take.  As Lt. Clark looked across the ridge at his fellow Canadians I like to think that he may have unknowing seen another soldier, Lt. Leslie Miller, who was equally taken by the harrowing losses and their stunning achievement.  In an effort to capture the moment Lt. Miller found a buried oak tree (to this day there are no oak trees left on Vimy Ridge).  From this buried tree he collected a handful of acorns and sent them home to Canada to be planted on his farm in Scarborough.  I suspect that Lt. Miller could not have imagine that the simple act of collecting those acorns would reach across 100 years and become a medium for the future generations to honor the actions and sacrifice of the soldiers at Vimy and of the Great War. 

Lt. Miller's Vimy Oak
 Lt. Miller survived the war and returned to Scarborough Ontario, where he worked his farm which he aptly named “Vimy Oaks Farm”.  Here enters Monty McDonald (a man I am so grateful for as he has enabled my project to come alive).  As a young man Monty worked with Leslie Miller and the two mean formed a deep lifelong friendship.  In 1979 Lt. Leslie Miller passed away and to this day Monty has continued to care for the Vimy Oaks, which now are part of the wood lot at Scarborough Chinese Baptist Church.  Over the last few years Monty has been determined to ensure the legacy of these Vimy Oaks live on.  In order to do this Monty has become fundamental part of the Vimy Oak Foundation which collaborates with the Vimy Foundation (Check out this website for more info  http://www.vimyfoundation.ca/vimy-100/vimy-oaks/).  Together they are painstakingly taking one hundred saplings from the Vimy Oaks in Scarborough and planting a Centennial Park at Vimy Ridge.  The purpose of their project is to help preserve the legacy of Canada in World War One.  It’s a breathtaking and fitting living memorial with such a powerful story behind it.  (It is important to note there are many people involved in the Centennial Park/Vimy Oak project and I hope I can capture who they are at some point ).

Vimy Oak Saplings
Once I learned about the story of the Vimy Oaks I instantly knew that I had to try everything I could to get some of this wood for the flute to be made from.  The stories of Vimy and the personal connection to those soldiers lives in this Oak wood.  To make a flute from this wood and play the song amazing grace at Vimy Ridge is a humbling dream which will connect the past with present in a 100 year circle.  It is my hope that because this wood is so connected to Vimy, when it is played the song may reverberate from the Vimy Oak wood and reach out to all those who sacrificed so much and let them know we thank them, we honor them, and we remember them.     

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

The Vimy Flute: Becoming Part of The Story

Welcome to my blog and I hope I can capture your attention as I share the process involved in the creation of a very unique flute.  Yes a flute... in fact it will be something of an artifact as it will be the only ‘Vimy Flute’ designed purposely to honor the actions and sacrifices of our Canadian soldiers in Vimy France almost 100 years ago.  It has been a vision of mine to play the song 'Amazing Grace' on the Vimy memorial.  On April 9th, 2017 at the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge I will be finding my way to the monument and play this song.  What will make this flute so special is it will be made from an incredibly rare wood whose origins come from the acorn of an oak tree which was decimated during the battle of Vimy Ridge almost 100 years ago. 

By following my blog I want to invite you to become part of this great Canadian story, in fact some may call it ‘The Canadian Story’.   Our part in this story is small, however it is a very important.  Our part is to ‘actively remember’.  Active remembrance is not about simply acknowledging the past, rather it is about engaging with the past.  I’m asking you to empathise with those of long ago, to honor them, and most importantly to let the lessons they learned guide your choices here and now.  Active remembrance allows the actions of our ancestors to come full circle and for you to becoming part of the story.

Each week I will post an update about the progress of the flute as it is being constructed by my partner in this project Steven Rensink. In these updates I will also share the stories of how the flute came to be and the history of Vimy Ridge. I will also highlight the efforts of all of the people working to ensure the memory of Vimy is preserved now and for future generations.  Please stay connected and because we are still designing the flute we invite you to add comments or ideas into the design of the flute. 

This Picture is early brain storming sketch  of what the flute could look like.  Please note that we are planning on making it into a drone flute which means it will have a second flute attached that will play one constant note.  Drones are kind of like a bagpipe.