Late last month, workers in Waterloo unearthed sections of the 200-year-old corduroy road (pictured, above). Early settlers laid logs on swampy ground to make their journeys easier (remember, this area is part of a large swamp). For a few weeks, these stretches of excavated ground became a tourist attraction, as archaeologists, historians, and people with camera-equipped drones documented the find. Yes, some areas still use corduroy roads, but around here, most routes are paved or (in the country) dirt/gravel.
I visited the site a couple of times during my usual running about to meetings and for errands. People around me took selfies or craned their smartphones over their heads for that perfect image. Their commentary was marked by wonder and fascination—How long did it take? How did the horses cross the logs? Look at the stumps! Some, of course, proffered firm opinion on what they saw, including one woman who was adamant it was all fake: “Old things aren’t found that far down.”
It’s those things—those that are found that far down—that stir emotion. I knew the Kitchener 1916 Project could be a touchy subject in these parts. We don’t wax lyrical about either of the two World Wars. The majority of people here were seen as the enemy. Some sided with the Germans. Some still do.
Exactly what happened here isn’t necessarily glossed over, but isn’t common knowledge.
I knew people who survived both wars. They didn’t like to talk about what they saw in battle, nor what they saw here. They glossed over local tone and temperature.
In school, my teachers only said, “and the war was very different here.” Their blackened tone stopped us from prying further.
By writing about the 118th and the Tapperts, I’m stirring up family memories for some, and challenging assumed truths for others. I’m certain there are those, for their own reasons, would wish the 1916 memories weren’t roused–they simply don’t fit the current narrative.
But what happens when we don’t talk about those times? What happens when a group of people decides to veneer the past? What happens when we simply pretend the rampages and slurs didn’t happen to make us feel better? We forget not just the past, but the lessons of the past and myths become truths.
I’m happy the Kitchener 1916 Project a catalyst for conversation. People talk about The Great War’s effect on their communities. Debates happen. Mum’s or Grandma’s recipes are shared. Sometimes, a myth or two get busted.
This month’s favourite:
A rather purple piece on the beauty of aging women reminded readers that younger women ain’t all that. Which readers—young girls or old men who chase after those young girls—I’m not sure.
A fictitious conversation between a pouty 17-year-old girl and a “man” (no age listed, but he did wear gloves and a hat) started with “Sweet Seventeen” outraged that a 35-year-old woman could be pretty (Heaven forbid). “How can one be pretty after 30? To be more than 20-something-or-other means the end of the world for a woman…why, one must almost be getting grey.” I’m sure today’s Hollywood and catwalk backroomers would salivate to read such affirmation.
The man retorted by comparing women to flowers—sweet and gentle, as a violet; elegant and stately, as a lily, and handsome and flaunting with a poisonous heart, as a poppy (hrm…he never mentioned the luminous and romantic Queen of the Night, jasmine)—but at 17, girls are “yet but the smallest of the white violet buds.”
You can imagine how well that went over.
My question is, what preceded this conversation? I mean, it’s not as if this man’s flowery formularisations were in response to being rejected by the 17-year-old girl, were they?
April 2016 Posts:
- 31 March – 06 April 1916: Private Bills Committee/ Recipe: Peach Pudding
- 07-13 April 1916: Of plug hats and tweed caps/ Recipe: Potato Puffs with Cod
- 14-20 April 1916: A victory of sorts/Recipe: Cabbage Salad
- 21-27 April 1916: A big, warm time was had by all/Recipe: Canadian War Cake