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Gordon Watts Reports
Column published: 05 November 2005
By: Gordon A. Watts   Biography & Archived Articles

Greetings Readers

Gordon A. Watts Lest we forget

In this, the year 2005, the year that Canada has declared "The Year of the Veteran", we are rapidly approaching the eleventh day of the eleventh month - Remembrance Day. It is at 11:00 AM on this day that Canada and other countries pause so that we might remember, and pay homage to those of our citizens who fought, and perhaps died, so that we might enjoy and live in the freedom that we have today.

Some might protest that we have too many restrictions on that freedom. However, we have only to compare ourselves with citizens of some other countries who live under strict and inflexible regimes to realize how lucky we are to live where we do. For the most part we do not have to live in fear that some fanatic with explosives strapped to their body will blow themselves up in the hope of taking with them some who do not believe as they do. We have freedom of choice in where we live, what professions we choose, and what religion (if any) that we follow. Unlike citizens of some other countries, we have the right to protest when we feel our governments have stepped out of line, and can do so peaceably without fear of incarceration or of being shot for our efforts.

Whether we call it 'Remembrance Day' as in Canada, or 'Veteran's Day' as in the United States, or by another name in whatever country you happen to live in, the purpose of the day is the same - to remember, and honour, those who came before us. Most cities, towns, and municipalities have monuments or cenotaphs commemorating those of their communities who gave their lives so that the lives of those they left behind would be better. Many of these places will have parades and ceremonies to remind us of our 'fallen heroes'. Whether you are able to attend one of these ceremonies or watch one on television, or are unable to do either, at 11:00 AM I urge everyone to bow their heads and observe two minutes of silence out of respect for those who died so that we might have a better life.

I am advised that in Canada there are now only seven veterans of World War I still living. Two of those reside in the Veterans Wing of Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. Clare Laking is 106 years old and I am told he will be laying a wreath at a ceremony on November 11. The other WW I veteran at Sunnybrook is Lloyd Hammett. I regret that I do not know the names or location of the remaining WW I veterans.

Through an email posted to a genealogy mail list I was recently reminded of a tribute to our Canadian veterans that I first became aware of a few years ago. This visual and musical tribute by Terry Kelly, called 'A Pittance of Time', and an explanation of how it came to be written, can be accessed in either English or French versions at

A new tribute this year - a 'Thank you' to the men and women who fought in World War II - entitled 'Before you go', can be accessed at

'Before you go', with music by John Melnick and lyrics by Sam Bierstock, is essentially a tribute to US veterans, although in the video I note some Canadian insignia, and even a picture of Prime Minister Paul Martin. It was the goal of those originally posting this tribute to see it sent to every living veteran of World War II while we still have them, and to their families and survivors. They stated that we have not thanked them enough, and asked that readers forward the link to every World War II veteran (or their families and descendants) that you know.

I challenge anyone to view the videos accompanying these tributes with dry eyes. I could not.

Let us never forget.

Veteran licence plates

This summer I had a visit from a friend from Saskatchewan that I have known for some 45 years. We were together in Grade 12 in Burnaby, British Columbia. Even though he was in the Army while I spent my service time in the RCAF we have maintained contact over the years. When he and his wife arrived at my home I noted and admired his new vehicle licence plates. When I commented about the proudly displayed 'Veteran' plates his simple response was "Where are yours?" This was the first indication I had that Veteran plates existed, and that I might be eligible for them.

Following the visit of my friends I did some surfing on the 'net and found information on eligibility for Veteran plates and how to apply for them. As of this past Monday I now proudly display my own British Columbia Veteran plates on my vehicle. They cost me a total of $5.00, paid to the authorizing agency, in this case the Royal Canadian Legion.

Even though the year 2005 has been declared the Year of the Veteran, and November 5 - 11 was declared Veterans' Week I do not recall having seen any publicity in the media regarding the availability of 'Veteran' vehicle licence plates. In preparation for writing this article I found a number of provincial government news releases making announcements about them, but these do not seem to have made it through the media filters that determine what is, or is not, newsworthy.

It appears that not all provinces have produced 'Veteran' licence plates, or if they have I have not been able to find information regarding them. I provide links below for those provinces that I have found that do have 'Veteran' plates. Veterans' licence plates are available to Provincial residents who have been Honourably Discharged after serving:
    A. In WWI, WWII, the Korean War, or the Gulf War as a member of:

    • the Canadian Forces,
    • an Allied Force,
    • the Canadian or Allied Merchant Navy, or
    • the Ferry Command

    B. As a member of the Canadian Forces meeting the National Defense Professional Classification requirements (MOC qualified).

    C. In United Nations or NATO Operations as a member of:

    • the Canadian Forces
    • the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,
    • other Canadian police forces, or
    • an Allied Force.
Applicants must have served a minimum of three years in war-time or post-war service, and may apply even if still in active service. You need not have served overseas to be eligible. Further information is available by clicking one of the links below.

Saskatchewan Homestead Records Index

In my last newsletter I included an article regarding the recently available Alberta Homestead Records Index, jointly sponsored by the Alberta Genealogical Society and the Provincial Archives of Alberta. No sooner had my newsletter gone online than I was informed of a similar project for Saskatchewan that went online on Friday, 21 October 2005.

Spearheaded by the Saskatchewan Genealogical Society and the Saskatchewan Archives Board, the Saskatchewan Homestead Index is a file locator database to the homestead files at the Saskatchewan Archives. It contains 360,000 references to those men and women who, from 1872 to 1930, under the terms of the Dominion Lands Act, took part in the homestead process in the area now known as Saskatchewan. Also included are those who bought or sold North West Métis or South African scrip or received soldier grants after World War One.

The database may be searched by name, by land location or by additional remarks, for example, about name changes or the name of the legal representative should the applicant have died. Special grants, such as the Métis scrip can also be identified by searching the remarks field.

Using the file number found in the index, the researcher can access the original homestead file; this file may contain information about the settler such as nationality, place of origin and family makeup, although names of other family members are seldom given. There may also be various sworn statements and information about the homestead itself including required agricultural improvements on the land before ownership was granted; in some cases, correspondence about matters concerning the homestead may be included.

The original homestead files are among the holdings of the Saskatchewan Archives Board in Saskatoon; microfilm copies are held at the Saskatchewan Archives Board Regina office. Copies of the files are also available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and its Family History Centers world wide.

The homestead files are one of the most used record groups held by the Saskatchewan Archives Board. Saskatchewan's Provincial Archivist Trevor Powell said, "I am delighted to see the homestead index on line. Each year, members of the public use some 9,000 homestead files and having the index on-line will mean that they can locate the files they need before ever leaving home. This will make the task of retrieving the actual homestead files at the Archives locations easier for researchers and will free up some valuable staff time at the Archives for other projects."

Rocky Sample of Pangman, President of the Saskatchewan Genealogical Society, commended the project committee for its work, noting that there has long been "an avid interest in the homestead records on the part of local and family historians. Having easy access via the internet to the homestead index will be a real boon to genealogists and others interested in the history of the settlement period in Saskatchewan."

LDS digitizing Family History books

I cannot vouch as to the originator of the following information as it was passed on to me as having been posted to a genealogical mail list. I have however, followed the instructions provided below and found them to be as represented. This will likely be a fantastic boon to many who have an idea of the title of a book they seek. It will also likely be somewhat frustrating for those who choose to 'browse the collection'. The sheer number of books available to browse is overwhelming.
    Digitization at LDS Family History Library

    ... the LDS Family History Library has announced that it has begun the process of digitizing and making available on the Internet all of the Family History books in their collection. These are primarily books in the "929.273 Series" that are currently housed on the first floor of the Family History Library (previously housed on the fourth floor of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building). At the present time (September 2005), about 5000 books have been digitized and are available, and they have announced that they are adding about 100 titles a week to the on-line collection.

    Copyright issues are playing a role in determining the order in which they progress through this task; books out of copyright are being done first.

    As these Family History books are digitized and placed on-line, an entry is being placed in the Family History Library on-line catalog with a hyperlink to the digitized image. By going to the FHL On-Line Catalog, you can search for a specific name, find a book that has been indexed using the name, and view it on-line, flipping through the pages as separate "pdf" images, much the same as if you were on the first floor of the Family History Library. Of course, the indexing that is available through the FHL Catalog is only as good as the human indexers made it; typically they only include the "top" 4 to 6 names that appear in each book in their indexing efforts.

    But there is even better news!

    The digitized images of these Family History books are actually being stored on the electronic servers at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. By going directly to the BYU web site to view the images, there are several additional possibilities that provide genealogists functionality that they have never had before. You are now able to do full-text searches on each book, and on every digitized book in the collection. Now you can locate the small two-paragraph entry on Grandpa Ebnezer McGarrah that is buried in one of the Family History books that you would have otherwise never thought to look at before. This can open up a huge new possibility for extending lines, getting past brick walls, and uncovering new relatives!

    How to Find The Digitized Images?

    Go to the web site of the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU at and on their home page, follow the links "Find Other Materials > Electronic > On Line Collections at BYU". Click on the "Text Collections" tab and select the "Family History Archive" from the list of collections that are displayed. You would then normally want to use the "Search All" feature with the "Search Full Text" box checked, although the "Advanced Search" will allow very high-powered searches that will allow certain phrases to be searched for and other words to be used to exclude potential hits. As you make selections from the "hits" that are displayed, you will need to use the "Click Here to View Item" button near the top of the screen to display the actual image of the page. You can page through the entire document using the index displayed on the left side of the screen. Each page may be printed after being viewed.

    One interesting sidelight is, when you are at the first web page for the Family History Archive (the page that lets you begin a search), click on the "Browse the Collection" button. This will display every Family History book that has been digitized and is available in the collection. You can scroll through this list much the same as if you were walking up and down the stacks at the library. At the top of the first page of the search results, it displays the number of hits, which (in this case) is the number of books in the collection. If you keep track of this number, you can get a pretty good idea of how fast they are adding titles to the collection as you revisit the web site from time to time. I think you will want to visit this site often as the collection grows!"

Until next time.

Gordon A. Watts

Your comments regarding this newsletter, and suggestions for future articles are welcome. Click here to send me a message with a subject line of "Gordon Watts Reports".

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