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Gordon Watts Reports
Column published: 04 November 2008
By: Gordon A. Watts   Biography & Archived Articles


Gordon A. Watts
Topics in this column include:
  • Lest we forget
  • In Memorium - Paul James McGrath
  • New at Library and Archives Canada
  • More on-line Censuses coming to Library and Archives Canada
  • My Thanks To You


Scroll down this page to read the complete articles...



Lest we forget

As I have done in past years at this time I include as the first article of my column, one with the headline above. This article, with some minor editing, is the same as the one published last year. The headline is brief, having only three words, but the meaning behind it is far from brief. It is a reminder that more than 117,000 Canadians have fought and died in various wars so that we might enjoy the freedom we have today. It is a reminder that Canadians in Afghanistan continue to fight, that some have died, and that others may yet die so that citizens of that country might gain the freedom of a democratic government that Taliban terrorists would deny them. It is a reminder also that those who choose to criticize the involvement of our soldiers in such endeavours have that right because of the Canadians who have fought and died in order to give it to them.

Originally called Armistice Day (and still called that in some countries), Remembrance Day throughout the British Commonwealth was created by King George V of the United Kingdom on 7 November 1919 to commemorate the end of the First World War (Monday, 11 November 1918, at 11 a.m.). It was dedicated to members of the armed forces who were killed during World War I. It was not until 1931 however, that a bill was passed - changing the name from "Armistice Day" to "Remembrance Day" and specifying that it be held on the same day each year - the eleventh of November. At the same time, Thanksgiving Day was moved to October.

It has become tradition that on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, two minutes of silence is observed in remembrance for the men and women who had served, and continue to serve our respective countries during times of war, conflict and peace. The two minutes recall World War I and World War II. Before 1945 the silence for World War I was for one minute, and today some ceremonies still only have one minute of silence.

Possibly one of the most remembered poems ever written is "In Flanders Fields". It was taught to me as a child in school, and so far as I am aware it is still taught to school children today. What many may not know, or may not remember, is that it was written by a Canadian, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corp officer, Dr. John MacRae [1872-1918]. "In Flanders Fields" was written on a battlefield following the death of a friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, on 2 May 1915.
    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
    In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.
John Henry Foster Babcock (born July 23, 1900) who lives in Spokane, Washington, at age 108 is the only known surviving veteran of the Canadian military to have served in the First World War. Babcock first attempted to join the army at the age of fifteen, but was turned down and sent to work in Halifax until he was placed in the Young Soldier's battalion in August 1917. Babcock was then transferred to Britain, where he continued his training until the end of the war.

Having never seen combat, Babcock never considered himself a veteran and moved to the United States in the 1920s, where he joined the United States army and eventually became an electrician. In May 2007, he became the last surviving veteran of the First World War who served with the Canadian forces. Since then, he has received much international attention, including 107th birthday greetings from the Queen of England, the Canadian Prime Minister and the Governor General of Canada.

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, I urge you not to forget. At 11:00 a.m. on 11 November, stop what you are doing, bow your head and observe two minutes of silence to remember and honour those who gave their lives so that we might live the lives we do today.

As I have done in the past, I recommend viewing and listening to two online tributes to veterans. The first - a 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 online in either English or French versions

The second - a 'Thank you' to the men and women who fought in World War II and the Korean War, titled 'Before you go', can also be accessed online

'Before you go', with music by John Melnick and lyrics by Sam Bierstock, is a tribute to US veterans, although in the video I note some Canadian insignia, and even a picture of former 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 and the Korean War, 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 and Korean War veteran (or their families and descendants) that you know.

New to this website since I visited it last year is a tribute to veterans of various countries that fought in the Vietnam War. Lyrics of the song are the same, but the visual images relate more to the Vietnam conflict.

As in the past, when viewing these videos, I did so with tears in my eyes. I challenge anyone to view these tributes with dry eyes. I could not.

Let us never forget.



In Memorium - Paul James McGrath

The genealogy community has lost another of its well-known members with the untimely death in Edinburgh, Scotland, of Paul James "P.J." McGrath. Perhaps best known in recent times for his roll as staff genealogist on the History Television show, 'Ancestors In The Attic', it is believed that Paul was in Edinburgh doing research for another segment of that show.

Paul was a professional genealogist and researcher, and a published author who lectured extensively on a wide variety of topics, including American, British, Scottish, and Irish genealogy. He was the current chair of the Toronto Branch of OGS, and a well-known and respected member of Ontario's genealogical community. His obituary follows:
    Paul James "P.J." McGrath


    MCGRATH, Paul James (P.J.) - Suddenly in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Thursday, October 23, 2008, Paul James McGrath, Toronto, at the age of 49 years, loving partner of Liam Coleman. Beloved son of the late Patricia Helen Anderson. Cherished brother of Gerard Francis McGrath, Margaret-Mary Meraw and Barbara Anne MacFarlane. Treasured uncle of Kristen, Trevor, Adam and Sarah. Fondly remembered by many family, friends and colleagues. Paul was chairman of the Ontario Genealogy Society, Toronto Branch. Respected for his successful work with the television series Ancestors in the Attic and well known for his philanthropy with many charitable organizations. The family will receive their friends at the Egan Funeral Home, 203 Queen Street S. (Hwy. 50), Bolton (905-857-2213) Saturday evening 7-9 o'clock. Funeral service will be held in the chapel of Egan Funeral Home, on Sunday morning, November 2 at 11 o'clock. Followed by cremation. If desired, memorial donations may be made to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario or the Canadian Cancer Society.

    Condolences for the family may be offered at www.eganfuneralhome.com"
Unfortunately, by the time you read this article, Services for Paul will be finished. I feel certain however, that condolences sent to the family will be appreciated.

Paul was the second member of 'Ancestors In The Attic' to die while a member of the cast. Ryan Taylor died 25 September 2006, shortly after being in Toronto to film a segment of the show. My article on his passing can be viewed at http://globalgenealogy.com/globalgazette/gazgw/gazgw-0092.htm



New at Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is pleased to announce the launch of In Quarantine: Life and Death on Grosse Île, 1832-1937, a project funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage through its Canadian Culture Online Program.

Featuring a variety of documents preserved and digitized by LAC, such as lists of births and deaths at sea, hospital registers, journals, letters, photographs and maps, this virtual exhibition tells the story not only of the quarantine station, but also of the individuals who experienced life on the island.

Immigrants at Grosse Île, a database containing thousands of digitized documents related to individuals who lived on Grosse Île, is now available through the website at:
The contributions of many LAC staff were instrumental in the success of this project, and their efforts are much appreciated.

LAC also wishes to thank Parks Canada for its participation and full cooperation in the creation of this virtual exhibition.

For more information, please contact project managers Sarah Hatton or Jean-Sébastien Potvin at webservices@lac-bac.gc.ca

More on-line Censuses coming to Library and Archives Canada

In the past while I have received a number of queries relating to the 1916 Census of the Western Provinces, and the 1891 Census of Canada. Those queries all asked the same thing - "When will these Censuses be available online at Library and Archives Canada?" There was concern in particular regarding the 1891 Census of Canada because it is currently available on Ancestry.ca, although except for a 14-day free trial, a subscription fee is required to access it.

At the meeting of the LAC Services Advisory Board held in Montreal on 24 October, I asked these questions of Doug Rimmer, Assistant Deputy Minister, Programs and Services, LAC. His response to my questions was that both Censuses would be available online 'soon'. He asks for your patience until they can be loaded on to the website.

Doug explained that part of the reason for the delay in placing these records online was due to the recent federal election. He stated that in the timeframe leading up to the election, and during the election itself, government departments are hesitant to make any changes to websites that could inadvertently have some kind of effect upon the election. As a result, any expected changes to the websites were put on hold for the present. Doug indicated he would keep me advised on when these Censuses would be available on the LAC website. Like all other Censuses currently online at LAC, it is expected that these will be available without charge.



My Thanks To You

Back in May many of you assisted me by casting your votes for my son Bruce, and his fiancé Jennifer, in a contest to win their wedding and be married 'on air' on SHINE-FM radio. Happily, we won the contest and the wedding took place in Calgary on 3 October. When responding to my request for your assistance a number of you asked to see some pictures. Space here is limited, but the following picture shows the happy couple being introduced for the first time as "Mr. and Mrs. Watts"





Until next time.

Gordon A. Watts gordon_watts@telus.net

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".

To view back issues of Gordon Watt's columns, visit Gordon's biography page where all of his archives articles are available.


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