Beyond Vimy: Making History RelevantDecember 8, 2017
Several years ago, John Irving met Mark O’Neill and James Whitham at the Canadian War Museum during the 1812 exhibition. A battle flag carried by a New Brunswick regiment was part of the Museum’s exploration of that defining war. At the time, Mr. Irving was Chair of the Board of Directors of the New Brunswick Museum.
When Mr. Irving and his wife Elizabeth learned of the War Museum’s plans to present exhibitions for Vimy – Beyond the Battle and the Last 100 Days, they were pleased to offer support.
Although war is part of our history, the Irvings hope to help Canadians understand the context — and the lived experience of individuals. Elizabeth Irving says, “It’s hard to ignore the topic of war in the early part of the last century. There are still people who remember, but we’re losing them… Taking pride in our past is important, and it’s important that it’s personal.”
In his native Saint John, Mr. Irving restored a commercial block of late-Victorian buildings so new businesses could flourish. “Being from New Brunswick, we see lots of history around us. Canadians have been doing things for a long time, much of which is still relevant, still important, still has an impact on us today.”
And we are far from finished, Mr. Irving believes. “Canadians make history every day with what we do,” he says. “Canada may not be the biggest country with the most people or the largest economy, but we are relevant. It’s important to remember that we’re greater than the sum of our parts.”
In April, Mr. Irving had the good fortune to attend commemorative events in France for the 100th anniversary of Vimy. He was struck by the number of Canadian flags displayed in French homes. “The story of Vimy is so much more than just one day. It’s bigger than that. They haven’t forgotten what we accomplished there that day,” he says. John and Elizabeth Irving hope that Canadians remember as well.