Senior students of a Kwantlen Polytechnic University history class learned the challenges professional historians face when attempting to construct a biography after finding and analyzing several original documents in an effort to recreate a Canadian soldier’s First World War experience.
Despite the difficulties of the task the keen learners left their professor nothing short of stunned.
“My reaction was, I’m absolutely amazed at what they could put together. I am so impressed with the students work here – because this is not easy,” said Dr. Chris Hyland, a professor with the history department at KPU.
“I think my students, at the end of the day, have really performed an important act of public service, and of public remembrance,” he continued.
“They have taken to heart the idea of Remembrance Day, and produced something really cool that members of our community can appreciate, and come to understand the Canadian soldiers experience a little bit more.”
The senior seminar focuses on Canada and the First World War.
“I think it’s really, really important to engage with youth on this particular topic,” said Hyland.
“I think military history and Canadians’ martial past is really important, and I think students begin to see a little bit of that once they start connecting the ideas between past and present, when they start to see just how much of Canada was influenced by through the wars that Canada has fought.”
One example Hyland shared was the introduction of income tax.
“Income taxes came out in 1917, and were a temporary measure to pay for the First World War – we’ve kind of been stuck with them ever since,” Hyland laughed.
“So it’s things like this that students can engage with and hang on to.”
Many of the students’ feature films about the veterans are available online for the public.
Student Nate Mercer paid tribute to Henry “Louie” Norwest, “a Cree ‘cowpuncher’ from Alberta, who became one of the greatest marksmen of the entire Great War. He fought bravely at the battle of the Somme, the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and died fighting at the Battle of Amiens.”
Jeffrey Lai honoured Masumi Mitsui with his work. Lai video’s tells the story of Mitsui’s “struggle as a Japanese person living in Canada. When [the First World War was] initiated he saw the opportunity to join the army so that he and other Japanese persons could gain potential citizenship, as such he fought the bloody battles in Europe hoping to gain recognition from the Canadian society.”
Hylands said the assignment was an opportunity for students to uncover themes and issues in society that are still prevalent today.
“Topics of racism and discrimination in society today, here in the Lower Mainland, of course, very important hot topics. Well, the history going back to the First World War, you can see all those same themes and issues when it comes to recruitment, recruitment of Indigenous persons into the First World War, and Indigenous and Japanese people. I mean, the racism here in 1914 was so bad that if a Japanese man wanted to enlist, you had to go all the way to Alberta,” Hyland explained.
To view the students’ work visit KPU Remembers at https://wordpress.kpu.ca/kpuremembers.
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