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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”. ~ ...

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.