Memory Project humanizing our military past

The Memory Project Speakers Bureau is putting a human face to Canadian military history.

ALYSSA ARMSTRONG spoke Wednesday at CFB Comox about about the Memory Project Speakers Bureau.

ALYSSA ARMSTRONG spoke Wednesday at CFB Comox about about the Memory Project Speakers Bureau.

Connecting veterans and serving Canadian Forces personnel with students and members of community groups across the country, the Memory Project Speakers Bureau is putting a human face to Canadian military history.

Thousands of men and women volunteer their time to speak about their experiences serving Canada, and the Memory Project is always looking to recruit new volunteers.

As part of those efforts, the Memory Project Speakers Bureau hosted a community Lunch and Learn event at CFB Comox Wednesday.

The reception acknowledged the contributions of current Memory Project volunteers while recruiting new ones. Canadian Forces personnel, veterans from the Second World War and the Korean War, family, friends and supporters attended the event.

Canada’s largest veteran and current Canadian Forces speakers bureau, the Memory Project connects veterans and currently-serving soldiers with classrooms and community groups across the country.

More than 1,500 veteran volunteers represent a wide range of Canadian conflicts and tours from the Second World War to the Korean War to peacekeeping operations to Afghanistan.

Outreach co-ordinator Alyssa Armstrong spoke about the Memory Project Speakers Bureau and encouraged veterans and currently-serving Canadian Forces personnel to become volunteers during the reception.

The Memory Project Speakers Bureau is one of Historica Dominion Institute’s longest-running, largest and most successful programs, according to Armstrong.

The Memory Project was founded in 2001 through the efforts of two Second World War veterans, John Kirkpatrick and Grant McRae, she explained.

“These gentlemen were living in Toronto at the time and going on visits informally, and they decided wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could pull together a group of speakers who would be available in their own communities throughout the country to go on visits and share their stories of service with students and community organizations,” she said.

To kickstart the program, the Dominion Institute conducted a national poll, and it was found that the idea of a centralized speakers bureau featuring veterans and currently-serving Canadian Forces members would be welcome in schools across Canada, according to Armstrong.

“The Memory Project Speakers Bureau became an effective tool for education, and by bringing a real-life veteran into their classroom, teachers can reinforce the lessons that the provide,” she said. “Basically, as a volunteer, you act as a human face to the history that students in Canada and different members of the public in Canada might read about. These first-hand experiences shine a light, not only on history, but also on current affairs, so we find it very important and a very excellent, enriching service that we are able to provide.”

Wednesday’s Lunch and Learn reception was the Memory Project’s first visit to CFB Comox.

The Memory Project Speakers Bureau is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

“Through the dedication of our speakers and the enthusiasm of our teachers, the Memory Project has grown significantly over the past 10 years and has become the official school speakers bureau of the Royal Canadian Legion,” said Armstrong. “We are growing all the time, with over 2,000 volunteers registered, and we are always recruiting more.”

The Memory Project is the largest volunteer registry of its kind, and it sends speakers to an average of 700 schools and community groups nationwide each year, reaching on average 175,000 Canadians, according to Armstrong.

“Through the success of the Memory Project and the work our speakers have done, we’ve been able to help increase awareness of Canada’s military history and military contributions and bring about a better sense of appreciation for our veterans and currently-serving Canadian Forces,” she said.

In 2009, Historica Dominion Institute launched another program called Memory Project: Stories of the Second World War.

“This digital archive is the largest oral history of its kind in Canada,” said Armstrong. “The program gives every living Second World War veteran a chance to have his or her story recorded and memorabilia digitized so that it is preserved online and it is 100 per cent accessible to the public.”

This summer, Canadian Heritage announced more than $1.2 million to continue the project and expand it to include Stories of the Korean War.

“The archive continues to grow,” said Armstrong. “There are 2,600 Second World War veterans on the archive to date. There are 10,000 artifacts.”

As the Historica Dominion Institute works to bring the Memory Project across Canada from coast to coast, Armstrong says it’s no secret the face of the Canadian Forces and of the veterans who volunteer is changing.

“We are sadly losing many Second World War volunteers,” she said. “Over the past three years, we have seen a marked increase in the number of requests from teachers asking for a serving member of the Canadian Forces to visit their class. But of course we are always looking to recruit Second World War veterans to join the bureau to share their stories as well.

“We are certainly seeking more diversity, and we are seeing more diversity, more women, younger faces, in the Canadian Forces. These newer veterans and Canadian Forces personnel have so much to teach young Canadians, not just on Remembrance Day. When you combine the power of our Second World War veterans, our Korean War veterans, our peacekeeping veterans and anyone who’s served Canada all the way up to present-day Afghanistan and people who’ve been on tours right here in Canada, it really sends a powerful message.”

For more information about the Memory Project Speakers Bureau, visit or call 1-866-701-1867.

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