Celebrating Kootenay veterans
July 16th, 2014
UPCOMING EVENTS FOR NAMES ON A CENOTAPH
Thursday, Sept. 4: Book launch – Nelson Touchstones Museum 5:30 pm
Saturday, Sept. 6: Book signing, Otter Books, Nelson – morning
Thursday, Sept. 11: Book reading and presentation, Boswell Memorial Hall, 7 pm
Of the 611,000 Canadians who fought for King and Country, 55,570 were from British Columbia – the highest per capita rate of enlistment in the country. Of that contingent, 6,225 died in battle, a critical loss to a fledgling province of barely 400,000.
These facts and more will be quoted by Mark Forsythe and Greg Dickson in their forthcoming From the West Coast to the Western Front (Douglas & McIntyre $26.95) to mark the 100th anniversary of World War I. Coming this Fall, the book vividly relates how this war jolted Canada into nationhood and that B.C. was the province which participated most eagerly in this nation-building process.
After six years of research, Sylvia Crooks’ second book, Names on a Cenotaph: Kootenay Lake Men in World War I (Granville Island $19.95), commemorates British Columbians who fought in World War I from a particular community.
She tells the stories behind the names of 280 soldiers engraved on cenotaphs and memorials around BC’s Kootenay Lake. Who were these men? Crooks found out by delving into letters, diaries, artefacts and photographs.
She says that she wrote her book, “To make some of the men live again and make them more than just names on a cenotaph.” She adds, that it is “written out of respect for them, as well as out of anger at the sacrifice of a generation of men in a futile war.”
Crooks documents what motivated the scores of men who enthusiastically enlisted in a war where thousands died daily. She discovers what provoked these citizens from Nelson to leave their families and their lives in Canada’s west, even while sometimes lying about their ages, to join the patriotic fervour of the time. They traded their lives in the beautiful Kootenay Valley to serve under horrific conditions halfway around the world. Rats, flames, gas attacks, hip-high mud and the constant threat of German shells and snipers were just some of the terrors they faced.
Many of these men were ranchers, miners, loggers and fruit growers. Most had attended Nelson High School. They left as sons, fathers, husbands, and brothers to join the fight for God, home, country, and empire. Crooks writes of the brutality these soldiers endured and the shell shock and war wounds the survivors had to live with upon their return to Canada. She asks questions about the impact on the following generations of the unrecoverable losses of the dead and the unrealized contributions the soldiers could have made had their lives not be cut short.
Crooks celebrated the extraordinary sacrifices of her community in her first book Homefront & Battlefront: Nelson BC in World War II (Granville Island, 2005). Nelson compatriots raised eight million dollars for Victory Bonds, shipped 17,000 pounds of clothing and eight tons of jam overseas, and lost 70 lives from the 1,300 men and women who enlisted after 1939. There are 28 geographical sites in B.C. named in honour of men from the Nelson area that died in WW II. Nelson previously sent more men to the Boer War per capita than any other comparable Canadian town and its 54th Kootenay Infantry Battalion suffered heavy losses during WW I.
Sylvia Crooks was born and raised in Nelson, BC, where her father, T.S. Shorthouse, was mayor from 1958 to 1963. After graduating from Nelson High School in 1954 she earned a BA degree in English and History from the University of British Columbia. While at UBC Sylvia was a features editor and senior editor for The Ubyssey, and during the summers of her university years she worked in the editorial department of the Nelson Daily News as a junior reporter.
She married physicist Michael Crooks in 1959, and while raising three children wrote questions for the TV quiz show Reach for the Top. In her mid-40s she went back to UBC to take a Master’s degree in Library Science, and after working in public libraries for a number of years, joined the faculty of her alma mater, the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies. For 16 years she taught reference services and outreach services at the school, retiring in 2002.
Also, in Landscapes of War and Memory: The Two World Wars in Canadian Literature and the Arts, 1977-2007 (University of Alberta Press $31.31), Sherrill Grace uses her knowledge to adopt the role of observer. This comprehensive study of the literature, theatre and art related to memories of both world wars constructs a bridge through history and connects readers with wartime trials and traumas that many Canadians have never experienced.