Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Vimy

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I don’t know much about war. Or wars. Not in a personal context, nor an historical context. I’ve stood along the parade route of aging war veterans on November 11th, and broke into applause with those around me. It sounds like an odd thing to do, to applaud, but in the moment it feels right.

I’ve driven the Highway of Heroes, the stretch of the 401 that honours Canadian soldiers who have died in war. I’ve driven it when crowds have gathered overtop lining the bridges to pay respect to a soldier who has died in Afghanistan, the military convoy following the route from CFB Trenton to Toronto.

While passing through the Ottawa Valley, I programmed the GPS to take me to the nearest Tim Hortons coffee shop. It did, and I found myself on the base at Camp Petawawa. Not the military training portions, but the places where soldiers and their families live, shop, drink coffee. Men and women wearing army-issue fatigues went about their daily business. Mothers sipped coffee, chatted, babies in strollers. It struck me that those stationed at the base live with the realities of war every day, every moment, as close to them as heartbeat. These are realities I don’t know.

I vaguely recall that my grandfather fought at Vimy Ridge. He died when I was a child, and most of the people who would have known about his war experiences are dead, too. How easily, quickly, family history is lost.

An online search of my grandfather’s name and hometown resulted in two relevant hits; census records listed his year of birth as 1897, making him “of age” to have fought in France in 1917. Another site listed a soldier by the same name as wounded in the war, and that fits with my memory, grandfather’s limp, how painful walking was for him.

The Canadian Authors Association recently honoured five Canadian authors for books of excellence published in 2008. The winner of the CAA Carol Bolt Drama Award was Vern Thiessen for the play, Vimy, published by Playwrights Canada Press.

I searched out a copy of Vimy, not to “find” my grandfather, that’s not possible or reasonable, but because I was curious – about the battle of Vimy Ridge, and about the play itself. The play is powerfully poetic, riveting as a narrative, haunting.

Writes Thiessen: “Vimy is not a play about war. It does not ask whether war is right or wrong, nor does it criticize or defend war, past or present. It does not ask whether a battle like the one fought at Vimy Ridge is worth the tremendous commitment and profound sacrifices made by the men and women involved. Rather, in conceiving Vimy, I wanted to crawl inside one small corner of the offensive and explore something different. I wanted to discover how small actions can define us as individuals and as a nation.”

You can learn more about the 2008 CAA Literary Award recipients and their winning books by visiting the Canadian Authors Association website.

~ Marianne Paul

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Marianne Paul

Marianne Paul's is the author of the novels Dead Girl Diaries (BookLand Press, 2009), Tending Memory (BookLand Press, 2007), Twice in a Blue Moon (BookLand Press, 2007) and The Shunning (Moonstone Press, 1994). Her fiction, non-fiction and poems have appeared in publications such as Vox Feminarum, Cahoots, Canadian Author, Western People and The New Quarterly.

Go to Marianne Paul’s Author Page