On April 9, to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War battle of Vimy Ridge, people across Canada read from the war plays Motherhouse and Bolsheviki by Chalmers Award-winning playwright and socialist, David Fennario.
Both plays are based on first-hand accounts of resistance to war, in the trenches of France and in the British Munitions Supply Factory in Verdun, Quebec. These plays were read to counter the myth of Canada’s ‘birth as a nation’ in this battle and remember the horror of militarism. Far from unifying Canada, WWI exposed the divisions. Conscription riots broke out in Quebec and soldiers returning home facing no jobs, protested in Halifax and Toronto.
Fennario grew up and still lives in Verdun, a working-class community that saw the single largest proportion of World War I casualties of any place in Canada. The British Munitions and Supply Co, also located in Verdun employed thousands of women making the weapons of war in unsafe conditions.
“Verduners went overseas to fight for democracy but those that survived came back and found out they had to fight for democracy where they lived,” states Fennario. “Verduners played a key role in the organizing of unions in the CPR, Bell Telephone, Nortel, and also for welfare rights, medicare and housing. The first community clinic in Canada was organized down in Verdun in the 1930's with the help of Doctor Norman Bethune.
“That’s the kind of victories we should be celebrating, and not the slaughter at Vimy Ridge where thousands of young working class men, German and Canadian, died in defense of profit.”
“In 2003, thousands of people opposed to the war in Iraq read from the ancient Greek war play Lysistrata on the same day,” said Ottawa organizer Chantal Sundaram. “We wanted to recreate that anti-war chorus, a commemoration that does not glorify war or the militaristic ‘birth of a nation’. We remember those who paid the price to prevent it from happening again.”
Readings took place in Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston, Toronto, Halifax, Charlottetown, and Huntingdon, Quebec.
Join the conference One solution, revolution: Marxism 2017, April 21-22 in Toronto, including the session “1917-2017: 100 years since the Russian Revolution”