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Alberta Book

Alberta Book

Photographs by George Webber
photographs by George Webber
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They Fought in Colour / La Guerre en couleur

They Fought in Colour / La Guerre en couleur

A New Look at Canada's First World War Effort / Nouveau regard sur le Canada dans la Première Guerre mondiale
edited by The Vimy Foundation
afterword by Peter Mansbridge
translated by Daniel Poliquin
foreword by Paul Gross
also available: eBook Paperback
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It has been nearly a decade since Canada lost its last living link to the First World War, John Babcock. John was 109 years old.

John Babcock didn’t see active combat, although he tried several times, having lied about his age — twice! — but only getting as far as Halifax the first time and England the second. In the years prior to his passing, John shared stories with numerous people about what life was like when he was a kid in small-town Ontario, prior to the outbreak of war. He shared his memories of taking the train to his family farm, ordering his first pair of shoes while browsing the latest Eaton’s catalogue, and being a fifteen-year-old kid wanting to enlist. He knew very little of what his fellow Canadians were experiencing in the battlefields of France and Belgium. But he knew he wanted to be part of it.

He nearly got his wish by telling officials he was eighteen, the age that would have allowed him to be deployed to France in the waning days of the war. Survival was far from a certainty, especially in late 1918, but timing was on John’s side even if he didn’t want it to be. The Armistice arrived soon after he enlisted, and John Babcock lived, amazingly, for another ninety years.

One hundred years later, we still recognize the Great War as a truly transformative experience for Canada.

However, Canadians today see the First World War in black and white — through photographs and in grainy film footage, the speed of which resembles a comedy routine from a bygone era. The faces of the soldiers, nurses, and those at home are unrecognizable to us. The landmarks in cities and towns across the Western Front and in Canada look completely different, and the early forms of technology used during the Great War are big and bulky compared to what we use today to complete the most menial of tasks. As a result, it is challenging for us to connect with these seminal moments in our history, and to recognize their importance for the country we know today.

Colourizing these images brings a new focus to our understanding and appreciation of Canada’s giant event — the First World War. It makes the soldier in the muddy trenches, the nurse in the fi eld hospital, and those who waited for them at home, raising money to support the war eff ort, come alive. Immediately, their expressions, mannerisms, and feelings are familiar. They become real.

They Fought in Colour is a new look at the Great War. A more accessible look. A more contemporary look. While memories of the conflict and its impacts on our collective consciousness are slowly vanishing, these colourized photographs capture our attention. They provide us with a clearer understanding of what the First World War would have looked like to the people who lived it. If we look closely, the photos have the power to transport us to this poignant reality.

The Vimy Foundation strives to engage Canadians of all ages, particularly students, in recognizing the importance of preserving the stories of Canada’s incredible service and sacrifice during the First World War. Unique programs designed to provide unforgettable overseas experiences — “pilgrimages” — to Vimy and other First World War battlefields, historic sites, and memorials ensure that young Canadians learn, pay tribute to, and bear witness to the events of a century ago. Th e Foundation’s pin and medal program gives Canadians a tangible way to demonstrate that they will not forget the actions of those who came before them.

These initiatives, as well as the creation of large-scale legacy projects such as the Vimy Visitor Education Centre, located at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial site and completed for the Vimy Centennial Commemorations in 2017, ensure we will still discuss the First World War a hundred years from now.

The generation that served Canada in the First World War is all gone, and we no longer have the opportunity to sit on grandpa’s knee and ask him what life was like a century ago. Sadly, only a small number of First World War veterans had their experiences recorded for future study and reflection, a sign of the times in which they lived.

This world has passed, but the images John Babcock saw along the streets of his hometown and during his training experience — and what he would have seen had he made it to the Western Front — come alive in the following pages. We ask that you now be a witness. Lest we forget.

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Women Who Dig

Women Who Dig

Farming, Feminism and the Fight to Feed the World
by Trina Moyles
photographs by KJ Dakin
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