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  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation

Armistice Day Address

November 15, 1999

Ladies and Gentlemen, Students...........

Delighted to be invited.

Your Student Council president asked , WHY ARE WE HERE?  And I tended to ask myself the same thing.  Most of the time, I am thought of as a humourist  (except by my poor husband - the butt of many of my jokes - who keeps saying to me, "I SUPPOSE YOU THINK THAT'S FUNNY??!!)

And indeed, when I sat down to consider this address, I had to wonder what on earth I would talk about, giggles and guffaws being somewhat out of place at a ceremony such as this.

It occurred to me to talk a little about when I was a child...mentioned that most of the people here were too young to remember the wars.  Well, unfortunately, I'm a lot older than most of you.  And I remember.

World War 2, anyway.  And the Korean conflict.

I was born in l937 (don't bother trying to figure it out.... I'm 57!) so that made me quite young to be remembering the second world war.  But I do.... because even up here in the Yukon, which was pretty isolated from the largest HOO-HAW of the war effort, it figured so largely in our lives.  

My mother and ladies like her, spend most of their evenings knitting for the soldiers: sweaters and mitts and scarves and hats.

There was a scarcity of some items in the stores, particularly sweets, like jams and so on and sugar and butter were severely rationed. So was liquor.  My parents didn't drink much but I remember standing in line for hours, in front of the liquor store,  with my mother waiting to buy a bottle of rum for my Dad's nightly hot toddy. 

IN retrospect, I don't know WHY liquor was rationed?  I'm pretty darn sure they didn't send it to the soldiers.....  Interesting.


Hollywood sent many of its young stars to war.  Those who stayed home made movies about the ones who went.  And impressionable youngster like me and my brother saw those movies at the Saturday matinees which ate up our weekly allowance- 25 cents for the movies, a dime for a box of Milk Duds or a Milky Way chocolate bar.

After the show, we 'd go out and relive the movies.... all of us valiant airmen or soldiers or sailor, fighting our way through emnemy lines .  The old cenotaph was in a vacant lot behind what is Kelly's, today.  It made a wonderful fort and besides, it was flanked by two wonderful anti aircraft guns and many, many times we successfully  defended Whitehorse against the might of the German airforce.

So, in a way, when you are thinking about those people who helped to make the world safe for you, you should spare a thought for a little band of children who used to do the same thing, day after day, on these very streets.

And, of course, the war brought us the Alaska HIghway and the thousands of young soldiers who came to build it.  Those soldiers were often guests, in our home.  Lonely youngsters, many of them not much older than some of you... glad to visit with a family who reminded them of their own.  They, in turn, were so generous, those young men, Bringing us gifts of candy and gum, canned hams and on Christmas, a party with Santa Claus , and gifts for every child in town.

Of course, the movies and the news reels - there was no TV but there were newsreels that preceded every movie - bringing us horrifying glimpses of the war -  also gave us nightmares, and for me, at least, a subconscious fear that the war would come to Canada and envelop us as well.

But it didn't, thanks to the brave men and wonen who gave their lives to ensure our freedom and safety.

And today, - as then - we must stop and give thanks,  And count our blessings.

We've got this vast and wonderful land, filled to the brim with natural resources, bustling cities, prairies with sweet earth as far as eye can see.  We've got oceans full of fish and more than our share of blue sky. 

We have Nature as our friend.

We have the benefits of many cultures, especially the british tradition of law and order, the French joie de vivre, the Anerican go-get-em enterprise. 

Thats a nice combination.

We have not secret police.  Our courts are not run by colonels in the back room.  We are outraged by injustice  -- and thats not a luxury that ALL people enjoy.

Our schools have books and trained teachers.  Kids can dream big, in Canada.

Politicians squabble in public.... BOY, do they squabble in public...But in Canada, disagreement is a RIGHT... it is not a privilege.

You can go to to any church.  Or no church, if that's what you  prefer. 

In fact, you can do just about anything you want...... as long as you don't hurt others.  We DO have rules about that.

We have interesting people: Adrienne Clarkson and Milton Acorn and Wayne Gretzky and Margaret Atwood and W. O. Mitchell and many many more. 

But lots of ordinary folks as well. Hard workers.  Raising families. Paying their way.  Saying "eh?" at the end of their sentences.

Good solid people who mind their own business.

Until they are pushed ... and then they mind our business for us.  And put their lives on the line to defend us and to defend those that can't help themselves.

Today we come together to remember some of the ones that were pushed to the limit, and to remember what it was they fought for.

We're thankful TO them and proud OF them,

We're proud of us.

We are SO lucky to be Canadians.

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