Remembrance Day is especially meaningful to one Central Albertan who runs an organization that documents the experiences of Canadian military veterans.
Allan Cameron, executive director and producer of Veterans Voices of Canada, and an admitted history buff, started the organization so the experiences of veterans could be documented and used for education. He started the organization in 2005.
“I had my first interview 10 years ago in October of 2006 in Calmar and I’ve been going steady ever since. I have interviewed over 1,100 veterans so far and I have a list of veterans waiting to be interviewed. I continue to receive calls from across Canada to document our veterans.”
Cameron researches veterans and once he contacts them, he sits down with them one-on-one in front of a camera.
“We talk about their military experience. I also like to talk about their family life and where they grew up as well. But 80 per cent of it is about the military experience. I also like to get to their post-war experiences but I find that there is so much going on with the war experience, that we mostly talk about that.”
Cameron added veterans are generally quite open about their experiences and are willing to share their stories.
“Sometimes when we talk about what they have gone through and what they have seen – it’s an emotional day for the both of us. When you sit there and listen to these men and women unload everything that they have been through – you well up for sure. If we don’t record it than it’s gone. If the Korean and World War II veterans aren’t documented now than we won’t have a chance to document it again straight from them,” he said.
“I personally have sat with, thanked, documented and heard hundreds of stories from people who have sacrificed so much for us.
“We need to let them know we are thankful for their sacrifices while they are here with us now by helping them where and when they need it. Just buying them a coffee and saying thank you goes far,” he said.
“We must also give tribute, honour and remembrance to those who have now gone through initiatives like what we at Veterans Voices of Canada do, as well as what many other organizations are striving to do. It’s so important not only to families, but to us all collectively as a nation to remember the sacrifices of those who serve us in so many different ways.”
When Cameron first started, he interviewed Second World War and Korean War veterans, but as time progressed he began to interview peacekeepers, Afghanistan, Vietnam and UN NATO veterans as well as ‘war witnesses’.
“War witnesses are mostly people who experienced what it was like to be under the rule of the Axis forces and on the other side of the coin to be liberated by the Canadians and the allied forces.”
The idea and motivation to interview war veterans came after Cameron and his uncle, who was a World War II veteran, were getting ready to talk about his experiences in 2001.
“My uncle was just starting to open up and he thought it was important that kids today know what war veterans did. We never had a chance to talk because he died before we could. That is the major thing that sticks in my head,” said Cameron.
“The purpose is to let people know, especially younger people, the history. I find the Canadian military history is going further and further from our general knowledge. It’s great that it’s written down and that we hear the second and third-hand stories, but something gets lost there. I think it’s important if we put on a DVD and watch the veterans talk about their experiences and we see it coming directly from them. You get the emotion, you hear their voices and you can see their faces. That’s the most important thing.”
Once Cameron completes an interview and edits it, the family of the veteran gets a copy of the DVD and Cameron keeps it not only for archive purposes, but also to put them up on the Veterans Voices of Canada web site as well as donating copies to educational institutions and museums.
“Every week I try to get two profiles up on the web site. This is something that if the veteran sees and the families see, they can be proud of.”
With Remembrance Day around the corner, Cameron said it’s the perfect time to reflect on the sacrifices veterans have given for Canadians.
“It’s important to know why we’re here and why we have the freedoms we have. Their experiences are still relevant today and are still important today. It’s important to thank our veterans.”
In addition, in recent years, Cameron has began an initiative that is now seen across Canada called the Flags of Remembrance.
Flags of Remembrance sees more than 100 Canadian flags erected for two weeks in honour and tribute of the men and women of the Armed Forces.
The local ceremony took place on Oct. 1st along Hwy. 11 with flags being raised simultaneously across the country at noon sharp in Sylvan Lake, Edson, Ponoka, Okanagan Valley, Kingston, Ottawa, Riverview, Charlottetown and also Cameron’s hometown of Sydney, Nova Scotia.
“This organization has been growing substantially over the years, and it’s thanks to the people I have who believed in what I am trying to do and who are now a part of the team with me. I’m fortunate to have an amazing group of people who make up the Veterans Voices of Canada board, other committees as well as amazing support from generous businesses and people from across Canada,” he said. “Along with our main mission of continued veteran documentation and our now annual and cross-country Flags of Remembrance, we will again begin our successful and highly anticipated Veteran Appreciation Day in 2017.
“We truly want to make remembrance and give tribute to our veterans (past and present) an every day event as much as possible though our remembrance and tribute initiatives. All of the people within our organization across Canada truly understand the meaning of remembrance and of giving tribute – it’s a prerequisite to being a part of this organization.”
Veterans Voices of Canada is a registered charity and runs mainly on donations and sponsorships. Tax receipts are available for donations over $25.
For more information, including opportunities to volunteer, visit www.vetvoicecan.org.