Video: An Alberta man makes it his mission to preserve the stories of Canada’s veterans. Emily Mertz reports.
EDMONTON – Allan Cameron has travelled across Canada to interview roughly 700 Canadian veterans, creating an online video archive of their first-hand experiences.
Cameron started Veterans Voices of Canada in 2006, motivated by a lost opportunity with his own family.
“Had an uncle who was a D-Day veteran, World War II veteran. He was one of the veterans who never really did talk much about his experiences. He would talk, or start to talk about his experiences, and he became emotional because he had seen a lot, been through a lot overseas.”
Shortly after agreeing to sit down and be interviewed by Cameron, his uncle postponed their meeting.
“Not long after that, I got the phone call that he had passed away. So that told me, OK, it’s time to start doing this, get serious about this and start documenting the veterans.”
In 2011, Veterans Voices of Canada (VVOC) became a registered non-profit organization.
Cameron spends between 80 and 90 hours a week setting up, researching, filming, editing and posting the interviews.
He admits he’s in a race against time. The average age of Second World War veterans is 90, and Cameron is intent on getting these stories documented before it’s too late.
“The fact that I receive emails, letters, phone calls from families of veterans who pass away – that I have documented – that gives me the drive to say ‘yes, this is something that has to be done, and keep doing it as much as you can.’ So, that’s the objective.”
Still, there have been veterans that haven’t been documented in time.
“It’s like a punch in the stomach,” Cameron admitted. “It’s tough because that’s a lost opportunity. For me, I look at that as a lost opportunity for that family to know their veteran’s stories. I lost out on that opportunity and that’s another reason why I do this; I don’t want other families to lose out on that opportunity. It’s important.”
VVOC has spoken with Canadian veterans from many generations, including Second World War veterans, Korean War veterans, those who served in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Peacekeepers, and members who are currently serving.
“They’re all amazing stories. I’m fortunate to be able to do this.”
“Allan takes everyone, which I think is the beauty of it,” said Retired Lieutenant General Don Laubman, who has shared his experiences with VVOC.
Laubman enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force at the age of 19. Beginning in 1943, he flew fighter operations over occupied Europe, and became one of Canada’s highest-scoring Aces.
“It was great, I loved it,” said Laubman. “Flying the spitfire was wonderful, the tactics, the formation, the search always for some enemy target.”
Years ago, he met Cameron and was pleased to share his story.
“I learned more about his operation and how it started and why, and I was mightily impressed.”
“A lot of people aren’t able to – or don’t want to – tell their family, their grandkids… and here’s a good way of doing it; get it on a piece of tape, and there it is in perpetuity.”
“The more I think about it, the more I can see a huge, important stack of historical information that couldn’t come together in any other way that I’m aware of.”
Laubman encourages other veterans to meet Cameron and participate in VVOC.
“A copy, when it’s made, goes to the family, schools can request and he’ll give them a copy and I think that’s important too.”
Over the years, Cameron has received a few government grants to help fund VVOC. He’s also received donations from legions, corporations, and individual members of the public. However, much of VVOC is self-funded.
“To learn he’s pretty much doing it on his own,” said Laubman, “I thought that was terrible, literally.”
He would like to see more government support for the project.
“There’s something awfully good and important available here and to let it go would be a huge mistake,” stressed Laubman.
“This history, this knowledge would just disappear and die, as it largely has for World War I. There are no more veterans left and it’s just sort of faded into history.”
Cameron vows to keep the project going, no matter what.
“When I have a low day, when I might question what I do sometimes, when I get that response – especially from the veterans – when they’re saying ‘thank you’ to me… that says something.”
To learn more about Veterans Voices of Canada click here.