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Canada’s Peacekeepers – A Remembrance post

Every year, we pause to remember and honour past and present heroes who fought bravely to uphold our way of life, many of them giving up their own. This act of remembrance is all the more important this year, at a time when the world is in dire need of peace. For this reason, we dedicate this year’s Remembrance post to our Canadian Peacekeepers.

The “Blue Helmets”

The United Nations’ military personnel, also known as Blue Helmets, consists of over 70,000 military personnel provided by national armies from across the globe.  They work along side the United Nation police and civilian authorities to promote stability, security and peace in the most troubled parts of the world.

Protecting civilian lives is at the heart of the peacekeeping mandate.  To meet this goal, peacekeepers are deployed in inhospitable, remote and dangerous areas where they face an untold scale of challenges especially when protecting civilians under asymmetric threats. Modern peacekeeping operations are increasingly complex and dangerous and place immense demands on deployed personnel and their families.

While most peacekeepers are infantry soldiers, today’s missions require increasingly specialized soldiers including engineers, pilots, logistics and armoured personnel and, to name a group dear to me, signal operators who provide reliable and secured communications and information systems using radio and satellite equipment.

Peacekeeping, a Canadian initiative

In the early morning hours of November 2, 1956, while the world was faced with an imminent international militarized crisis over the Suez canal, Lester B. Pearson (then Canada’s secretary of state for external affairs) rose in the UN General Assembly and told the audience that the world needed action, “not only to end the fighting but to make peace”.  He then made a case for the creation of an international peace and police force that Canada would help supply with troops and equipment. When the resolution calling for the creation of the “United Nations Emergency Force” passed unanimously, Pearson’s act of diplomacy became a tangible and effective tool for world peace.

For his leadership in creating what would become the UN Peacekeepers, Lester B. Pearson received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957. The Nobel Prize committee called Pearson “the man who contributed more than anyone else to save the world”.

Few people, Pearson included, would have guessed how strongly Canadians would come to align their national identities with peacekeeping in the decades that followed. Indeed, Canada has a long and proud history of peacekeeping, with Canadians having served in nearly all of the UN peacekeeping missions since the creation of this force.

In total, in excess of 125,000 Canadians have served under the blue UN flag in the pursuit of peace.  Some have done so at terrible price to them, with 130 Canadians having lost their lives in peace operations and many more having been injured.

This year’s Silver Cross mother

Each year, a Silver Cross Mother is chosen by the Royal Canadian Legion to lay a wreath at the National War Memorial during the Remembrance Day ceremony on behalf of all mothers who have lost children in the service of their country. This year, the painful honour is bestowed upon Gloria Hooper, the mother of Sapper Chris Holopina, a Combat Engineer who died on a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia in 1996.

Sapper Holopina was not new to peacekeeping missions.  As a young reservist, he had accepted two prior tours of duty abroad including in Cyprus from 1992-1993, and Croatia from 1993-1994. Bosnia was his third deployment.  Holopina’s pride in his service was contagious and motivated him to go beyond the call of duty.  While deployed, Holopina organized clothing and toy drives, collecting donations from across Manitoba to assist families with small children affected by the Balkan war.

On July 4, 1996, Holopina was killed when the Canadian armoured vehicle in which he was travelling crashed into a ravine while on their way to rescue a group of British soldiers stranded in a mine field. The armoured vehicle veered off the road to avoid an accident, but then careened down a ravine and rolled over, killing Holopina. He was only 22 years old.

If Holopina was the first to lose his life on this peacekeeping mission, he was sadly not the last. Indeed, the Balkan war and its associated peacekeeping missions were particularly difficult, with peacekeepers even being taken hostage and used as human shields against NATO operations. In total, 23 Canadians lost their lives on this mission in the pursuit of world peace.

Give peace a chance

The importance of peace in our world cannot be overstated. It serves as the only durable foundation for social stability, human rights, democracy, justice and the well-being of individuals and communities across the globe. In today’s very troubled times, Lester B. Pearson’s words appear more relevant than ever:

«We are now emerging into an age when different civilizations will have to learn to live side by side in peaceful interchange, learning from each other, studying each other’s history and ideals, art and culture, mutually enriching each other’s lives. The only alternative in this overcrowded little world is misunderstanding, tension, clash, and – catastrophe.

The fact is that, to every challenge given by the threat of death and destruction, there has always been the response from free men: It shall not be. By these responses man has not only saved himself, but has ensured his future.»

Lest we forget those who died fighting for peace.

With great admiration, this CondoGeek dedicates this post to this crew he served with in Haiti, in 1995.

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Support your veterans

Consider supporting the Royal Canadian Legion by joining a branch (anyone can join) or by getting your virtual poppy.

The Royal Canadian Legion was founded by Veterans and for Veterans. It advocates for the care of and supports all who served Canada, regardless of when or where they served. The Legion also provides representation and assistance to Veterans, including currently serving Canadian Armed Forces and RCMP, and their families, at no cost to them.

Our past Remembrance Day Posts

  • The return of Canada’s unknown soldier (2022)
  • Tommy Prince, First Nations Forgotten hero (2021)
  •  The little known Canadian battle of Otterlo (2020)
  • The day Canada became a nation (2019)
  • 100 years later, poppies still bloom (2018)
  • Remembering those who gave their today for our tomorrow (2017)
  • The Christmas battle of Ortona (2016)
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