Remembrance Day


Canadian Expeditionary Force Discharge Certificate


My grandfather came to Canada in 1905 with his father: he was 5 years old.

His father stayed for a while, came to the conclusion that it was too late for him to start over in a new country, and went back to Belgium.

My grandfather was left with a Belgian family farming in Manitoba where he was treated poorly.

He ran away when he was 10 years old.

While walking down the dirt road he eventually came across some other kids speaking a different language and they took him to their home.

He became part of their family; he worked on their farm; and he learned their language.

One day a saleman came to the farm and my grandfather heard the saleman and the farmer discussing business in another language.

My grandfather was curious and asked the farmer what language he had been speaking.

English” said the farmer.

Then what the hell am I speaking?” asked my grandfather.

Icelandic” replied the farmer.


note: He signed up with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on Valentine’s Day 1916 and was discharged January 18th, 1919.
His discharge papers say that he was 20 years old and 9 months in 1919, but I think he lied about his age and was really only 15 years old when he joined in 1916.

double note: at the present time there are 10 wars and 32 civil conflicts taking place:

triple note: I only knew my grandfather as a person who could make something come alive out of driftwood and burls.

quadruple note: if any family members are reading this … yes I still have grandpa’s discharge papers … and the framed discharge portrait with all the bells and whistles is still stored at brother #2’s place for me one day.

quintuple note: from what I remember he was actually in a trench about 5 km away from where he was born at one time during the war, but didn’t know it.


notes to myself #52

The burl table you store at your brother’s place eventually gets borrowed by your other brother. It’s probably for the best since I don’t think you’ll be moving back to Canada anytime soon.

15 responses to “Remembrance Day

  1. Cool that you still have the old documentation, but sorry about your table …

  2. That’s really fascinating Ross. It is a great piece of history, as well as you knowing the story behind it.

  3. I am happy you have such cool memories of your grandfather and you had a chance to get a glimpse into his world. 🙂 I love when people embrace their family memories!

  4. Great story & memories. I did my family tree a few years ago & found out that my Grandmothers brother was killed in Messines, Belgium during WW1

  5. Amazing story! Do you know any Icelandic?

  6. Now there’s a side of you that I didn’t see coming.

  7. Wow that was an amazing story.

    Glad to hear that your Grandfather made it back from the war when so many didn’t.

    Years ago I was out in the middle of nowhere not far from Flesherton in Ontario and I went through a tiny little village that was a ghost town. It was built on a dirt crossroads and there were about 5 or 6 ramshackle abandoned buildings on the corners of the crossroads and there was a small little war memorial from the first world war, about 2 meters high, in the middle of the intersection that was all grown over with weeds.

    I got out of the car I was in to check it out because it all looked so odd. In the stone there were about 8 names or the dead, all with the same surname.

    I can’t say for sure, but I’m guessing the names were all from the same extended family and the tiny community never recovered from the loss of so many of their men.

  8. Hi PR – this is a fascinating post. Your grandfather’s early life must have been tough. Imagine learning Icelandic like that! And going off to war to fight in the country of your birth…
    Wow. I’m almost without words. I have a feeling I’ll be thinking about Planet Grandpa for some time. Inspiring.

  9. Thanks for all the comments.

    Dennis the Vizsla: I ‘d rather have the table being used by someone who appreciates it (probably more than me) than sitting in a basement somewhere.
    I lucked out with the documentation, but the portrait is/was/ will always be the best.

    sweetiegirlz: I think my remembrance of the story is a little out, but not by much. I’m sure my brothers and sisters will correct me on the facts … if I ask them.

    Doraz: with the older generations of my family … it’s all memories now. (sadly)

    Tony: I have a few family tree folders tucked a way at my brother’s place. It’s funny that some names keep getting used from one generation to another. I was lucky not to be tagged with any of them though.

    S. Le: my grandfather remembered it when he was older. I can barely speak English with an accent. hee hee!
    I met a few people from Iceland once and they freaked out over ants. There are no ants in Iceland.

    Tooty Nolan: Well you’ve seen my backside in the Disclaimer, so I thought I should show something a bit better.

    razzbuffnik: Old WW1 memorials are hiding all over Canada.
    Australia/NZ remember Gallipoli and Canada has Vimy Ridge.
    It’s strangely the event that solidified Canadians with some sort of common pride/feeling of unity. The French and British were unable to take the position, but the Canadians did.

    epicurienne: My greatgrandfather brought over 3 sons (I think there were another 11 kids back in Belgium). One was probably14 and able to take care of himself and start work and the other was left with a priest at a local church. I think the priest eventually kicked him out for drinking the wine. At least that is how the story goes at least.

  10. What about Uncles then? (naff joke, sorry)

  11. Thanks for sharing such a great story. You have an interesting genealogy. Do you think there will be an Icelandic/Canadian/Japanese Planetross Jr. in the future? hee hee!

  12. S. Le: sometimes I am thicker than a brick. I thought you were making some reference to my grandfather. I was driving to work about 18 hours after when it finally clicked: ants … uncles.
    hee hee!

    Tammy: maybe if there is an Icelandic/Japanese person involved. I’m mongrel Belgian/English/Welsh … I think.

  13. I missed the Belgium detail. I mistakenly thought that speaking Icelandic suggested an Icelandic ancestory. What that the joke?
    Besides, you look much more Icelandic than Belgian. hee hee!

    Good luck meeting your Icelandic/Japanese mate.

  14. Tammy: my grandfather had to come to Canada from Belgium to learn Icelandic.
    There aren’t many Icelandians so a Japanese/Icelandian might be pretty rare……… I think that is a worthy search.

  15. I hope you write a few more things like this. Very interesting and well written. My Grandpa was a pilot in the war and then went on to work for air Canada for 37 years. He used to fly his fighter plan under a bridge in Victoria BC, when my Grandma was down there with her friends to try to show off. Must have worked. Have you ever seen old black and whites of your Granddad? It’s a trip to see them when they were young and invincible.
    Thanks for sharing!

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