Canadians are a proud nation, even though nowadays no one can tell exactly how Canadians look like. Are they descendants of white European settlers? Are they immigrants of different origin who helped build this country? Are they young people coming here from all parts of the world in search for a better life? “Canadian national identity” is a very complex term, described not only by ethnicity and language, but also by a shared vision for the world. There are quite a few things Canadians have in common despite their various appearances, one of those things being pride and respect for Canadian Forces. Most people cheer and salute whenever they see a man dressed in military uniform. Private K. says people on the streets often ask for permission to take a picture of him when he is returning from duty. He also tells that TTC employees refused to charge him any fare on numerous occasions. Canadians are indeed very fond of their military and it seems they just love to demonstrate their affection. Military parades here have high crowd attendance rates.
Where did this phenomenon originate? Private K. who currently serves in the 48th Highlanders of Canada, Canadian Forces Primary Reserve, says he did not expect that kind of attention when he first enrolled. The 48th Highlanders are an infantry regiment based here in Toronto in Moss Park Armoury at 130 Queen Street East. The regiment is basically a part-time militia, always open to recruits with just a few requirements: you need to be a Canadian citizen, be at least seventeen years old and meet the minimum education requirements for your entry plan and occupation. Your health and physical fitness will also be evaluated prior to acceptance into the Canadian Forces.
The 48th Highlanders were formed in 1891 and have been participating in Toronto’s life ever since. The regiment’s primary role is to serve Canadian citizens. When tasked or called out under “Aide to the Civil Power” 48th Highlanders serve across the country and all around the world. In the event of war, the Reserve’s role is to form a framework for mobilization, as it already happened before, in both World Wars. The 48th Highlanders of Canada are known for earning forty nine battle honours in three wars: South Africa – 1, First World War – 21, Second World War – 27 (source: 48highlanders.com).
Knowing the background of Private K. who became a Canadian citizen only eight years ago, I was surprised at first how eager he was to join the Forces. Later, while watching the Army Reserve Parade, I realized how narrow-minded I was. I simply forgot that the Canadian army was made of the same people I see every day on the streets, people of different appearance and origin. “Today’s Regiment, a unit of 32 Canadian Brigade Group, reflects the diversity of its own city of Toronto and of Canada. 48th Highlanders of every background proudly serve, Dileas Gu Brath, Faithful Forever” (source: 48highlanders.com).
The 48th Highlanders call themselves “family”. This “family” includes two cadet corps, the 48th Highlanders Museum, several alliances and affiliations. There is also a 48th Highlanders Association active present, established by veterans in 1920. The Association’s purpose is to support the current regiment’s members and to honour the memory of all who served with any unit of the 48th Highlanders. With their help, veterans (Korea, Second World War, Afghanistan) could be present at the ceremony during this year’s Remembrance Day celebration.
There is this one part of the regiment most famous for its artistic skills. “From the beginning of the 48th Highlanders there have been pipers present. It has been said that an efficient pipe band is the pride of every commanding officer of a highland regiment” (source: 48highlanders.com). The first band was fully organized in 1891 with a total strength of fourteen pipers and five drummers. The 48th Highlanders Pipes and Drums are famous for playing at every Toronto Maple Leafs home opening game since 1931. Currently the band is formed from both military and volunteer civilian members. During recent Remembrance Day celebration, the 48th Highlanders Pipes and Drums performed throughout the whole ceremony held near the 48th Highlanders of Canada Regimental Memorial in Queen’s Park (Toronto). After the ceremony ended, the Pipe and Drums dressed in their traditional scarlet ceremonial uniforms and kilts continued leading the parade towards Moss Park Armoury. It was the first time I have heard them performing life. Without them, the ceremony would have been lifeless and bleak.
Because most members of the 48th Highlanders have daily careers, the Remembrance Day ceremony is traditionally held in the course of two days, with the 48th having their own service on the Sunday before November 11. I found the ceremony itself sweet and very sentimental. It was good to see people gathering for the service and wreath-laying despite the gloomy weather and the fact that the ceremony lasted only half an hour. Luckily, it did not start raining until the last prayer was said and the parade proceeded to Queen St. To my great surprise, the crowd continued to accompany the parade on its way to Moss Park Armoury.
The 48th Highlanders have a long and honourable history. I wondered if that history is partly the reason for numerous young men and women to apply for service in the 48th. To see what thoughts are behind such decisions, I have asked Private K. to share his experience.
Q.: Why did you decide to apply to serve in the Canadian Forces?
A.: I have decided to join the CF because I think that this is a rewarding place to be and a career I can apply my skills in. I like helping others and this is exactly what CF is about. We serve the society in numerous ways, for example, humanitarian operations.
Q.: How did you feel upon being accepted?
A.: I felt that I have made an important step in my life. Especially considering that, the process took a while, approximately 2 years.
Q.: What is your current occupation in the CF?
A.: I am currently a private within the 48th Highlanders of Canada, an infantry regiment, which is part of 4th Canadian Division’s 32 Canadian Brigade Group.
Q.: What do you remember about your first training session?
A.: That I somehow was not nervous. I thought that I would be, but I guess because I waited for so long to get accepted into the CF, I made myself comfortable with the thought of joining. The most prominent memory is saying the words of an oath while everyone in the unit is looking at you.
Q.: What is your relationship with other privates?
A.: There is an environment of comradeship within the CF in general and my unit in particular. It is fascinating how people there are helpful and attentive to the new recruits’ needs. I got along with my colleagues rather smoothly.
Q.: What are the results of your first year of service?
A.: I have completed my basic training and I am very satisfied with the results. I now have many career paths to choose from, which are open for me. I also feel like I have acquired a second family as I am always welcome in the CF, just like any other member of the Forces. We are one big family there.
Q.: Do you plan on continuing serving? Why and for how long?
A.: I plan to continue serving the country for as long as I think I can contribute my skills and education. As I have recently finished my degree, I am currently thinking of looking into training in which I can apply my computer science skills. I suppose, I would be of most use to my unit in this field particularly.
Q.: Does being in the Canadian Forces affect your usual everyday life in any way?
A.: It does. First of all, I adjust my civilian life schedule accordingly, because from time to time I leave Toronto to participate in training in other parts of the country. CF bases are situated all over Ontario, so I get to travel a lot as well. Second, various events that CF participates in, like parades, are a good place to bring loved ones to. Making strong bonds between CF members and their families during such events is integral part of the CF culture.
Q.: Did you learn your regiment’s history as part of your training?
A.: Yes, of course. It is vital to have an idea of both the regiment’s and the Canadian Forces’ history. One of the concepts we always keep in mind is that knowing past helps realize the present. It is not only about studying strategy, tactics, and weapon systems, but also the dignity and bravery that Canadian soldiers have demonstrated in various conflicts throughout our history. 48th Highlanders, by the way, have participated in all major conflicts in the history of Canada, the fact we are all really proud of. Serving Canada is what we are there for.
Q.: Is there anything you would like to share about your regiment and your own experience there?
A.: I highly recommend joining the CF to anyone interested in serving their country. Selecting the regiment is purely a choice of a person, based on what he or she likes and envisions as their career within the Canadian Forces. I judge from my experience and I think that being part of our family and sharing our values would benefit an individual just as much as it would benefit our Canada.
During the Remembrance Day ceremony, I was once again convinced that there is a certain idea of loyalty and dignity standing behind those people’s serious faces. They have one home, even if they all come from different places. Although their English may have strong accents, they all speak this universal language of unity, trust and devotion. Canadian national identity becomes a question of a totally different matter when viewed from this angle.
More images at http://sandrashore.com/remembrance/