Friday, November 21, 2008

Unsung Heros, Unsung Scribes

Strangely, it didn’t occur to me that when the Calligraphy Society of Ottawa invited me to teach a two-day workshop, that I’d be meeting Canada’s “national scribes”. Perhaps that was for the best. Had I understood that earlier, I would have been very intimidated by those in attendence at my evening slide presentation and weekend workshop!

Though I had been to Ottawa many times, I confess I had never visited our national Memorial Chamber located in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, and was unaware of The Books of Remembrance displayed there.

I had a day to spend in Ottawa, and my excellent hostess, Pat Gregoire, whisked me off to ‘The Hill’ to see the books, chatting to me about the scribes who wrote them and sharing anecdotes about their work. It was a beautiful November day, just several days prior to Remembrance Day, and the green lawns of Parliament Hill were full of visitors. But in the vaulted Memorial Chamber, we grew quiet while examining the books — marvelling at the craftsmanship, but also keenly aware of the larger significance of these massive volumes — each and every name represents one life lost in service to our country.

As a scribe, I can well imagine the enormity of taking on such a task. First of all, nerves of steel are required. Though these pages are intentionally simple when compared to some manuscripts (we’re SO Canadian!), each page still involves painstaking hours of work — including watercolour illustrations, heraldic paintings and illumination.

Pat examined the pages closely, picking out the penmanship of various scribes. We don’t know all the names of the scribes involved, but we do know that John Whitehead, the founder of the Calligraphy Society of Ottawa, was both a scribe and mentor to the calligraphers who work on the books today.

I will be writing more about these books — their depth and historic importance deserve more than one blog post. But I will sign off this post urging anyone visiting Ottawa to take some time for The Peace Tower. If you’re Canadian, like me, your impression of Parliament Hill may be largely set by bickering politicians on the evening news.

Who knew the pride and pleasure of being Canadian could be rekindled by an impromptu visit to ‘The Hill’?!

Shown above, top to bottom:
The Second World War Book of Remembrance honours over 44,800 Canadians who died in the 1939-1945 war.
The South Africa - Nile Expedition Book of Remembrance contains the names of 283 soldiers killed between 1899 and 1902, and 1884-85 respectively.
The Newfoundland Book of Remembrance honours the 2,363 Newfoundlanders who died during World War 1 and World War 2.
The In the Service of Canada Book of Remembrance, the most recent book added in the Memorial Chamber honours those who continued a Canadian tradition of selflessness and courage and offered the supreme sacrifice in the military service of our country since October 1947.


Anonymous said...

I live in ottawa and visit the chamber once a year. I attended the Rememberance day services this year and the next day went in to the hill.

Kind of exciting seeing the pictures of the books when I opened this page today. A bit sad I didnt know youd be in town but you werent doing anything public either so I guess I didnt miss out on much. Thank you just the same though.

Lorraine Douglas said...

Alice...this is an excellent article and pictures...I wonder if you might put it in the newsletter?