Students and teachers learn about Canadian involvement in world wars in Europe

April 21, 2016   ·   0 Comments

Sometimes the best lessons are learned outside the classroom.

A group of teachers and students from Westside Secondary School in Orangeville and Centre Wellington District High School in Fergus took an educational trip to Europe last month.

The contingent, which included 38 students, visited Belgium and France and the focus of the trip was on teaching, and showing, the students about World Wars One and Two history, from a Canadian perspective. The trip ended with a stay in Paris.

“That was the cultural part of our trip,” explained Marty Papernick, a teacher at Westside Secondary, adding that the trip was open to all students from both schools. “The trip combined history and culture so there was something for everyone.”

Highlights of the trip included stops at the St. Julien Memorial Monument (Ypres), Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial (Ypres), In Flanders Fields Museum (Ypres), Menin Gate, Last Post Ceremony (Ypres), Canada House, Juno Beach Centre (Bayeux), a tour of Juno Beach and Bunker (Bayeux), Beny-sur-Mer Canadian Military Cemetery (Bayeux), a guided tour of trenches and tunnels, the Memorial at Vimy Ridge and a walking tour at Memorial du 19 Aout 1942, Blue Beach (Puys, Dieppe).

One of the things that made a lasting impression on the students was the many cemeteries they encountered on their trip.

“They would check the ages of the deceased soldiers and many were the same age as them,” explained Mr. Papernick. “It was very moving for them and upsetting. Driving through the countryside you would see fields with a couple hundred graves. That’s something you don’t see in the textbooks or learn in the classroom.”

Another highlight of the trip was their visit to La Maison des Canadiens, or Canada House, overlooking Juno Beach in the village of Bernières-sur-Mer in France .

It was one of the first houses liberated by Canadian soldiers on D-Day, 6 June 1944, and has since become a familiar historic landmark. The house, which was occupied by the German military, was one of the few left intact.

“The Canadian military was able to liberate it and made sure it remained standing,” said Papernick. “It was the only house that wasn’t destroyed on Juno beach.”

The same family who owned the house during the war (before they were evicted by the Germans) still owns the house to this day. The granddaughter invited the students and teacher in for a history lesson.

“Not only was I able to learn more about it, I was able to experience it as did the students,” Mr. Papernick noted.

One lesson that the students and teachers took away from the trip were the consequences of war, particularly the “terrible waste and devastation.”

“We also learned just how significant and important the Canadians’s contribution was to the two World Wars,” said Mr. Papernick. “Both were experienced strongly by our students.”

He was especially impressed with the way the students conducted themselves on the trip.

“They continually impressed us with their maturity and inquisitiveness,” said Mr. Papernick. “It was a joy to be with these students. The future of our country is in good hands with these high school students.”

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