Ryan Taylor Remembering our war dead
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By Ryan Taylor

Have you started considering New Year's resolutions yet? Here's a suggestion for a genealogist's or historian's resolve.

In 2005, I will make an effort to place a valuable historical document in an archives or library where it will be treasured and protected forever.

What sort of thing do I mean? Your own family history, for one. Short or long, see that it is placed in several libraries, so that descendants in 2105 will still be able to find it.

If you have archival documents which would have a wider interest than your own family, see that a photocopy is placed in a public collection. Or better, keep the photocopy at home and put the original in the archives.

Are there interesting old photos at your house? We all have family snaps, but some of our pictures might have local appeal. A photograph of my great-uncle Harry, for example, shows him at the age of 15 at work in Henderson's Bookstore in Oshawa, Ontario. The inside of the store is clearly portrayed. When I asked the photographic expert on Oshawa what he thought, he was delighted to say he had never seen such a good store photograph from this time period (about 1905).

All of us who research family and local history have to be grateful to generous people in the past who gave material to an archives or created a text for a library. They put the facts on record, and we found them decades later. I bless their memory every day.

If you cannot think of anything at your house, here's a project you might be able to help.

The Maple Leaf Legacy Project was begun by Kitchener native Steve Douglas to create an online photographic record of the graves of every Canadian who died in various wars from the Boer War on.

He estimates he will have to produce about 110,000 photographs to include all the graves, which are scattered around the world. In one dispatch, he was living in Ieper Belgium, a center of World War I cemeteries. In that war, it was better known as Ypres. He estimates he has about half of the photographs in hand.

The next step is to digitize the pictures and create the website. Funding is a problem (isn't it always?). He's going ahead anyway.

An informational website about the Maple Leaf Legacy Project can be found at www.mapleleaflegacy.ca . The photos are not there yet - at this stage the website is meant to keep everyone informed of progress.

What can you do? First you could submit photos which you own, perhaps of a relative's war grave. Your computer expertise might be helpful in working on the website which will feature the actual photos. Perhaps you'd like to sponsor the pictures from a particular cemetery with family connections.

The Maple Leaf website has a 'What you can do to help' section. You can contact Steve Douglas by email, or write to him at Maple Leaf Legacy Project Box 30, 8900 Ieper 1, Belgium, telephone (0032) 57 214-879. Regional coordinators for the project are listed on the website.

Keep in mind that information about Canada's war dead can also be found at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website at www.cwgc.org . They have information about each individual, their grave and the circumstances in which they died.

No matter what you resolve for 2005, I hope the New Year brings much happiness. May the Christmas season be joyous, funny and filled with the sparkle of sun on snow. It has become a time of year to look benevolently on those around us, whatever their or our religious or ethnic affiliation. In our multicultural Canadian mosaic, that's as it should be.

Posted December 27, 2004
Column copyright © 2004 Ryan Taylor

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