Members of Lasalle’s SikhTemple Association plan to hold a procession on Sunday, May 22 to celebrate the Khalsa Festival. Three flat-bed floats, a marching band and groups of people in orange turbans and white shirts will leave from the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar at 7801 Cordner at 1:30 p.m. They’ll slowly follow the route approved by the borough council last March, which runs along Cordner to Lapierre, south to Newman, west to Thierry, north to Juliette, west to Lise, north to Danièle, northeast to Gervais and then east again on Cordner. They’ll arrive back at the temple at about 3:45 p.m.
Punjabi food will be served throughout the event from the temple kitchen in the basement and from five tents to be installed in the parking lot.
Local police are scheduled to oversee road closures and make sure that the parade and the festival afterwards proceeds calmly.
“We expect between 7,000 and 10,000 people to participate, depending on the weather,” says Hardev Singh, a Sikh Temple member who helps organizers when needed. Singh says that visitors come from Ottawa and Toronto to participate in the procession, which honours the first five people to be baptised into the Sikh Religion in 1699.
The Khalsa parade has taken place in Montreal every year since at least 1993, although it began in Lasalle in 1996, says Singh. “It used to be held downtown in Victoria Square, but the shop keepers there were always unhappy about losing business. After we bought land in LaSalle for our new temple in 1995 [their previous temple was located at 1090 St. Joseph in Lachine], we started gathering on that piece of land instead. Most of our route travels through a residential area, and people here really like it.”
(Note: This article first published in The Suburban, City Edition, p 1, May 18, 2011)
I Volunteered: Canadian Vietnam Vets Remember (ISBN: 1896239145 Paperback, 175pp) covers the story about individual Canadians who fought in the Vietnam War. We will remember them. Order the book.
I Volunteered – Canadian Vietnam Vets Remember fills a significant gap in Canada’s military history—I strongly recommend it.
Les Peate, Esprit de Corps
…a moving first-hand account of a little known aspect of Canadian military and social experience.
Max Hancock, Ottawa Citizen
Did you know?
For each of the 30,000 Americans that Canada sheltered during the Vietnam War, a Canadian citizen volunteered to serve with the U.S. Army.
Canada Provided Security Clearance for U.S. Recruits
Canadians who served with the U.S. needed security clearance from the R.C.M.P, but the organization refuses to clarify how many such clearances they performed in those years.
Canadian Peacekeeping and Aid
Five Canadian peacekeepers died in Vietnam because of their perceived role as spies for the American Forces. Four were military soldiers serving with the Canadian Armed Forces. The fifth, a clerk, was found hanged with his hands tied behind his back in Saigon.
Canada gave aid to Southeast Asia from 1950 until at least 1975 under the Columbo Plan. Columbo was set up under the auspices of the Commonwealth Consultative Committee on South and Southeast Asia. Members included Australia, Britain, Ceylon, India, Pakistan and New Zealand. Until 1975, Canada’s portion of the aid went only to South Vietnam.
The Walker was Canadian
John W. Blake, the “walker” who marched 3,200 miles from Fort Lewis, Seattle to Yorktown, Virginia in full combat gear in 1982 to commemorate the unveiling of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington was born in Newfoundland.
After struggling for years with PTSD, Blake killed himself in Hilo, Hawaii on February 13, 1996, when he was 47 years old. His family then spent five years fighting to have him buried in the “Field of Honour” in St. John’s. When that proved impossible, they buried him in the military section of Forest Lawn Ocean View Memorial Park in Burnaby, British Columbia.
His funeral, which took place on April 7, 2001, was attended by representatives from his unit and a two-person honour guard from Fort Lewis.
His sister Cathy published a book, One for the Boys, about his life last year. I spoke with Cathy about her awesome book on Unapologetically Canadian last year.
Vietnam Veterans Associations Still Active
Today, veterans and their family members join together in Canadian Vietnam Veteran Associations across the country. Members work actively to support veterans struggling with PTSD and war-time health issues. They also fundraise for memorials in Windsor, Ottawa, Melocheville and elsewhere. Look for them at Remembrance Day parades, during “Rolling Thunder” on Memorial Day and where-ever else veterans are honoured.
Canada and the Vietnam War
When 19-year-old Robert Beattie crossed the border between Nova Scotia and Maine late in 1967, border officials probably thought he was just another Canadian looking for inexpensive Christmas gifts.
Instead, he visited recruiting office for the U.S. Marines and signed up to go to Vietnam.
He joined some 30,000 Canadian men and women agreed to serve in Vietnam as diplomats, soldiers, doctors, nurses and aid workers between 1954 and 1975.
What made him do it?
That’s the most common question I’m asked whenever people hear that I featured Beattie and others in my first book, “I Volunteered: Canadian Vietnam Vets Remember.”
After interviewing 218 veterans for the book and multiple other experts over the years since writing it in 1996, I have narrowed the key reasons people go to war down to three: a family history of military service, a desire to escape abuse and poverty, and a need to make the world better.
Family history of military service
Most Canadians count ancestor warriors who went to Afghanistan, Britain, Crimea Cyprus, Iraq, France, Korea, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Africa, Spain and the United States during historic wars.
Even those who don’t remember family warriors probably have a military past somewhere. Many Quebeckers, including me, descend from one of the 1,200 soldiers in the Carignan-Salières Regiment who came to New France in 1665 to protect settlers from attacks by the Iroquois Nation.
Europe brought many wars to the new world, including Queen Anne’s War (1702–1713), Father Rale’s War (also known as Dummer’s War), King George’s War, also called the War of the Austrian Succession (1744–1748), and Father Le Loutre’s War (1749–1755) in Acadia and Nova Scotia,
Others share DNA with those who served with the Troupes de Terre and the Compagnies franches de la marine, both of which participated at the battle on the Plains of Abraham in 1759.
Still others have ancestors within the 30,000 German Hessians who served in the colonies under King George II of England between 1776 and 1783. Many of us have family members among the American, Aboriginal and British soldiers who fought during four intercolonial wars between 1688 and 1773 or later during the War of 1812.
We also have family members participating in more recent wars too, including the Afghan, Gulf, Korean and Kosovo wars. We are justifiably proud of these heroes for sacrificing themselves for a greater good.
So why is Vietnam any different? People tend to describe the Vietnam War as though every soldier who went was drafted. The Canadians prove the lie to this assumption, which is why their story often gets hidden. Then again, governments don’t set up conscription processes unless they believe a conflict should be fought.
Escape abuse and poverty
Some of the veterans I interviewed joined the U.S. military because they needed a job, but others went to escape bad situations at home. Perhaps their families lived in poverty or they witnessed or suffered abuse.
That makes them all mercenaries I’m often told, usually by someone with an incredibly angry tone. These individuals seem to assume that all Canadian soldiers purposely give up their ethics to fight for foreign powers in return for a paycheque and escape.
None of them knew that their actions were technically illegal either, in part because so many Canadian institutions helped make their actions possible. For example, the RCMP provided security clearance reports for any Canadian who joined the U.S. military.
A few of the men I spoke to admitted that they were ashamed of somethings they did when serving in Vietnam, but often they felt like they had little choice by then. They certainly didn’t intend to give up their ethics.
One person told me he thought he wanted to kill before he got to Vietnam, but he said that feeling was based on his training and a misunderstanding of what killing actually meant. The first dead person he saw changed his mind, but it was too late to go home then.
Make the world better
For many, the horrific events at My Lai (Sơn Mỹ) on March 16, 1968 epitomize soldier action in Vietnam. There’s no doubt that 26 American soldiers raped and murdered 504 unarmed civilians. They even reported the event as a justified enemy kill.
We rarely hear about Hugh Thompson, Glenn Andreotta and Lawrence Colburn, the helicopter crew that tried to stop the killing and physically saved people by flying them away.
Thompson and his colleagues prevented an enormous lie from being believed, but he paid a huge personal price for his valour, especially in the early days. People put dead animals on his balcony. He got death threats. Eventually, he got the appropriate appreciation for his work, but that took time.
A Canadian woman got similar treatment from her government. Claire Culhane worked as a librarian at the tuberculosis hospital in Quang Ngai City from 1967 until February 1968. She left her post when she realized that the Canadian medical team head passed along patient information to the American Embassy and CIA.
She understood then that the Canadian government only served in Vietnam to bolster the American war effort.
Her efforts to stop the government continued for years, but the politicians ignored her. During the year that Culhane served in Vienam, Canada gave $2.7 million dollars to South Vietnam, a figure that surpassed the previous year. Every year, the Canadian Government gave similar amounts, with aid going up to $3.9 million in ’72 ’73.
Canadian Peace Efforts in Vietnam
All in all, our federal politicians voted to give almost $30 million in funds and technical expertise to South Vietnam between1957 and 1975. We sent 497 experts to South Vietnam. Canadian corporations supplied the U.S. military with $2.5 billion worth of goods during that same period. The Canadian military tested Agent Orange in New Brunswick.
During the same years, several reporters announced that the Canadian Government attempted to block private funds from going to North Vietnam. We trained 2,997 South Vietnamese students in Canadian colleges and universities.
In many ways, Canada fell into supporting the American effort during the Vietnam War as a side effect to their efforts to pull India and Pakistan out of an economic depression after WWII.
Pearson and the Colombo Plan
The project began on January 9, 1950, when External Affairs Minister Lester B.(Mike) Pearson joined six of his compatriots at a five-day meeting in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
The meeting was the first time that Commonwealth foreign ministers met in Asia. It also marked the first meeting in which India, Pakistan and then Ceylon attended international meetings based on their own sovereignty.
The other foreign ministers at the meeting were:
Percy Spender, Minister for External Affairs, Australia;
Ernest Bevin, Foreign Secretary, Britain;
Shri Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs, India;
Fredrick Doidge, Minister for External Affairs, New Zealand;
Chaudhry Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, Foreign Minister of Pakistan; and
Don Stephen Senanayake, Prime Minister of Ceylon.
A meeting of commonwealth finance ministers took place at the same time. Douglas LePan, a civil servant who served in External Affairs but frequently worked for the Ministry of Finance, participated in those meetings for Canada until the two meetings were linked half-way through the week. Leaders of note in the second meeting included Ghulam Mohammed, Pakistan’s Minister of Finance, Pakistan; and Junius Richard Jayewardene, Ceylon’s Finance Minister.
The Colombo Plan continues to exist today, although Canada left the organization under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1992. Britain had already left a year earlier.
The project the men created via the two series of meetings involved cooperation, mutual economic development and the defeat of communism. None of them wanted the British Sterling to collapse. In addition, India and Pakistan still hadn’t recovered from the world-wide economic depression most other countries came out of during World War II. The communist threat was also top of mind, given the Chinese Communist Party’s defeat of the Nationalists, who retreated to Taiwan the year before.
Colombo Plan funds went to the building of the Mayurakshi Dam in West Bengal, the Hulule Airport in the Maldives, the Da Nhim Hydropower Plant in South Vietnam, and India’s first nuclear power plant, which went online in 1960.
David McGee and Rian Manson describe how the Colombo Plan changed the relationship between Canada and India in chapter 4 of the book Objects in Motion: Globalizing Technology. 
When you look at the actions of these politicians and civil servants, it’s hard not to understand that soldiers also wanted to do everything they could to prevent communist forces from over-taking South Vietnam.
People tell me that this is due to some sort of need to exploit countries through colonialism, but I’m not sure that’s true. I suspect that most people who got involved in Vietnam believed that they were sacrificing themselves to make the world a little better. Or at the very least, they thought they could keep it from getting worse.
There’s no doubt that the Vietnam War featured human brutality in the form of civilian rapes, beatings, dispersions, massacres, military corruption, bestiality, live burials, human burnings, political expedience and incompetence.
It was also atrociously long—lasting from 1954 until 1975 for the American portion. Even longer, if you include France’s attempt to hold onto the provinces of Tonkin, Annam and Cochin China along with Laos and Cambodia between 1946 and 1954. Longer still, when you realize that Vietnam was occupied by Japan after France lost to the Germans on May 10, 1940. We can even go back further, to the beginning of French occupation in Vietnam from the Cochin China Campaign in 1858.
Every war features despicable behaviour by bullies and despots. Sometimes, people go to war to stop them, and in this case, many people thought that that’s what they were doing.
Vietnam has a particularly bad reputation because we lost. If we hadn’t, perhaps our many sacrifices might have felt worthwhile.
Then again, it’s possible they were.
We don’t know what might have happened if we’d never been involved in the first place.
 Whiteside, Heather. (2015). Canada’s Reluctant Acceptance of the Colombo Plan for Co-operative Economic Development in South and South-East Asia. Waterloo Historical Review. 7. 10.15353/whr.v7.34.
Lasalle— Two long meetings did little to reassure tenants in the seniors buildings on Gamelin that life will get back to normal anytime soon, despite several announcements fulfilling some of their needs. Instead, mutual distrust will keep the kitchen doors locked, non-profit groups in charge of finances, and tenants feeling helpless. “This is a terrible place to live,” said Lise Mitchell, a tenant at 720, after the meeting. “Whatever you do, don’t end up in a place like this.”
The three-hour meetings took place on Thursday September 22 at 760 Gamelin, and last Friday at 720 Gamelin. A buffet lunch preceded more than an hour of presentations by representatives from Montreal’s municipal housing authority (OMHM), local police, the CLSC, the Borough of Lasalle and the Saint Antoine and Vieux Moulin community centres. “For us, it was very important that we show that the four organizations, the Borough of Lasalle and the CLSC are working closely together,” said Louise Hébert, OMHM’s director of communications. “We are four organisms who have received complaints about serious abuse and harassment in those buildings. We are putting more resources there because we want it to stop.”
The tense mood before, during, and after both meetings marked a sharp contrast to the sunny day in August when 92 people attended a corn roast at 760 Gamelin. That day wasn’t organized or attended by any officials, other than a Suburban reporter. Tenants collaborated to organize an afternoon of laughter, relaxed conversation combined with delicious food.
While almost half of the 720 tenants attended their official meeting, fewer than 30 tenants attended the 760 meeting. A tiny crowded room and the presence of three police officers in uniform may have kept more away. One police officer was on the official panel, but two additional uniformed officers arrived in police cruisers soon after the meeting began. A very loud woman was complaining outside of the room at the time, but she happily accompanied a reporter outside to express her complaints without force. No other disturbances were obvious. The Suburban already has a request in to interview the Lasalle police chief; we’ll add the reason for this show of force to our list of questions.
During both meetings, tenants quietly waited for their turn to speak while officials explained their roles and announced up-coming programs. Bingo games will resume in both buildings, garbage ventilation systems should be installed by November, and assertiveness training begins in October.
When tenants got the right to speak, they raised issues about locked kitchen doors, dirty public spaces, lengthy waits for repairs, over-bearing security, bullying and favouritism by officials and even mild assault. Many of their concerns were brushed aside, and in one case, a resident was told that the incident she described didn’t happen.
The meeting at 720 Gamelin seemed relatively smooth until Teddy Macintyre’s request to speak was refused. Macintyre commutes daily from Lachine to look after her 83-year-old father who has Alzheimer’s. She lived in 720 Gamelin until June, when she gave up the possibility of a two-bedroom apartment in Lasalle and sleeping on the couch was no longer possible. She also used to be president of the tenants’ association.
When officials refused her the right to speak, she stood up and yelled, “I knew you wouldn’t let me speak, I knew it.” At least thirteen other tenants also raised their voices and requested that she be allowed to talk, but officials refused. Despite many raised voices, Macintyre was the only person who had to leave the room.
(Note: This was published on p3 of the city edition of The Suburban yesterday.)