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The Globe and Mail

The war was fought in Canada too. Let’s not forget

John Crosbie is a former federal minister of finance and former lieutenant-governor of Newfoundland and Labrador

Recent events in Ottawa and in Quebec have reawakened memories of a time when war was brought to our shores. Not in a very long time have we Canadians had to feel unsafe or wary of moving about in our daily lives. It is a loss for so many of us, who once believed that while war was waged in other parts of the world, we were somehow safe and secure. We have almost forgotten the time when it was commonplace, at least on our Eastern seaboard.

Our great country has been the one so many nations call on to jump in and offer help when and where it is needed. Whether it was in the great wars, or more recently in Afghanistan and the Middle East, our men and women were swift to offer their service in the fight for freedom and democracy.

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It is hard to reconcile these fresh feelings of worry and fear, but for many of us it will be familiar. Myself, I recall so many years ago in 1939, when war was declared in Europe, the feelings that swept the nation. Canada was quick to offer help to Britain and France. And while war was waged across the seas, many forget that there was also a crucial battle being fought much closer to home. This would come to be known as the Battle of the Atlantic, the vital battle upon which all else depended.

This battle, fought in the broad Atlantic off our Eastern shore, in the Gulf and lower St. Lawrence and coastal Newfoundland, was the only theatre of war commanded by a Canadian, Admiral Leonard Murray, based first in St. John's and then Halifax. It was the critical battle. Winston Churchill said it was the only thing that kept him awake at night, and Soviet Marshall Zhukov attributed his victory at Stalingrad and allied success at Normandy to our ability to keep the sea lanes open.

The Battle of the Atlantic also profoundly affected Canada's economy. It was the cause of a remarkable expansion of the shipbuilding industry. From the East Coast to the St. Lawrence, the Great Lakes and the West Coast, more than 1,200 naval and merchant ships were built, along with thousands of small craft.

As is our natural tendency to jump to the ready when called on, tens of thousands of Canadians volunteered for active service. During this time, approximately 95 per cent of the wartime navy was made up of members of the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve – a testament to our brave and determined men and women. Never to be forgotten were the 5,000 men of the Navy, Air Force and Merchant Navy, who paid the supreme sacrifice and whose remains lie forever in the pitiless ocean.

The Battle of the Atlantic is a story like no other. It must be remembered. Which is why a team of designers, architects and passionate advocates are striving to build a Battle of the Atlantic Place, befitting this most influential battle of the Second World War. Battle of the Atlantic Place will be located on the shores of historic Halifax Harbour, the origin of many of the Atlantic Convoys. It will not only honour those who served but will educate the present and future generations as to how Canadians rose to a challenge. It is the right thing to do for our children and grandchildren and needs all of our support.

As Canadians, we know the importance of remembering our history and paying tribute to those who have fought for our freedom. So this Remembrance Day, when you are at a memorial service or watching it from home, please take a moment to remember all those who served, especially those 5,000 Canadian naval and merchant sailors and airmen who lost their lives in the Battle of the Atlantic.

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