Rural communities paid hefty price, Dowdeswell says

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer


Ontario’s Lieutenant-Governor likes to visit smaller communities on Remembrance Day because the sacrifices they made in the great wars are more keenly felt than in larger urban centres.

“November 11 is always a special day,” Elizabeth Dowdeswell said at Governor Simcoe Square Saturday.

“I like to participate in these events all week long, especially outside the city. So many of the smaller communities appreciate this day more because so many of your citizens were decimated in the wars. I’m delighted to be a member of your community today.”

Dowdeswell also chose Norfolk because Simcoe is home to only one of two carillon bell towers in Ontario. The other is in Ottawa.

The Norfolk War Memorial was erected in the early-1920s. Carillonneurs regularly visit the tower and play music on its bells.

The work of the Norfolk Remembers Committee over the past several years has also come to the attention of the Lieutenant-Governor’s office.

The committee has compiled several books telling the stories of the 1,500-plus veterans from Norfolk who served in the First and Second World War. Of these, 249 men and one woman made the supreme sacrifice.

The committee has commissioned commemorative quilts and plans other events and activities through 1918. Nov. 11 next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended the First World War after four years of bloody combat.

“We talk to people and we do some research,” Dowdeswell said. “We also like to look for Legions that are very active and acknowledge not only former veterans but current veterans and their need for support in the community.

“And I was interested in the Carillon Tower. They are so rare.”

Dowdeswell delivered a speech at the tower near the end of Saturday’s observance. She referenced the fact that 29 soldiers from Norfolk died in August, 1917 in the battle for Hill 70 in the north of France. That was by far the highest casualty count for Norfolk in any war before or since.

Saturday’s ceremony in Simcoe featured a fly-over by a vintage Harvard trainer. As if on cue, the plane made its entrance right at the end of Last Post.

In his closing remarks, Simcoe Legion president John Charleau acknowledged the large number of young people in attendance. Representatives of elementary schools in Simcoe placed wreaths en masse at the foot of the tower in memory of the fallen.

Charleau was also pleased that the Queen’s representative in Ontario saw fit to visit Norfolk on this solemn occasion.

“It’s great,” he said. “I look forward to these ceremonial occasions. It’s good for the county to have her here. It’s good to have someone of her stature as part of our parade.”

The weather for Saturday’s ceremony was cold but sunny. More than 1,000 people lined both sides of Norfolk Street North as well as parts of Wilson Avenue nearby.

Dowdeswell was born in Northern Ireland during the Second World War. Prior to becoming Lieutenant-Governor in 2014, Dowdeswell served as a university professor and a senior bureaucrat in the Saskatchewan provincial government and at Environment Canada in Ottawa.

She went on to serve as Under-Secretary General of the United Nations Environment Programme in Nairobi, Kenya.

In the years immediately before her appointment, Dowdeswell served as president and CEO of the Council of Canadian Academies.