Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion Monument
Article by Steve Harvey (Program in PDF format)
On Saturday, Feb 12, 2000 in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, the unveiling of the statue which completes the memorial to members of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion took place. The "Mac-Paps", as they are affectionately known, were the Canadian contingent of the International Brigades who went to fight against Franco in Spain. The monument has been in the works for some time now, with the first part finally being put in place in December 1998.
It was a great moment to see the old veterans of the Spanish Civil War given some recognition. Canada is one of the few holdouts that still refuses to recognize the sacrifice of the Spanish Civil War veterans, who were officially classified as "premature anti-fascists" at the time. We heard at this ceremony that work is underway to erect a national monument to the "Mac-Paps"
There are only three veterans from British Columbia still alive, none well enough to come to the ceremony, but Brigadistas from the United States and elsewhere came, including one amazing fellow who flew from Israel for the event! (He seemed to have boundless energy-he insisted that a reporter, young enough to be his granddaughter, dance a few steps with him around the halls of the Legislature where he was being interviewed.)
We cheered as the veterans,accompanied by a piper and bearing aloft the flag of the Spanish Republic, marched in a short parade to the monument. There, the speakers included Dan Miller, (then) Premier of British Columbia ; Jim Sinclair, the President of the British Columbia Federation of Labour; Svend Robinson, an outspoken New Democratic Member of Parliament in the government of Canada; and Joe Barrett and Tom Kozar, the two men most responsible for this monument coming into being.
Bob Reid, a Mackenzie-Papineau volunteer from the U.S.A. also spoke, as did Rosaleen Ross, who served as a nurse in Spain. The Spanish government was represented by Joaquin Ayala, Honourary Consul of Spain.
We cheered again as the veterans marched back into the Legislature, the seat of the Provincial government of British Columbia, where a reception was held. We talked, drank tea and coffee, ate, and sang songs such as "Hold the Fort", "The Peatbog Soldiers", "Viva la Quince Brigada", and others. We made the halls ring with a prolonged, and lusty version of the "Internationale" - it was good to see the proud expressions on the veterans' faces, and those of their friends and families. Some of the veterans' families were able to identify their fathers, grandfathers, uncles, etc. in the photographs on display. For some, it was an opportunity to learn more about what caused their family members to go to Spain. For others, it was a chance to reconnect with old friends, make new ones, and share stories and thoughts.
Here is part of a letter Victoria resident Inger Kronseth wrote to the "Times Colonist" newspaper following the event:
"Later at the reception in the legislature's rotunda, I found a Danish veteran who- in spite of being severely handicapped- had come all the way from Delta [south of Vancouver,BC] He told me about another Danish veteran, Henning Sorensen, who among other things, had been Dr. Norman Bethune's driver. Henning, an old friend of mine, died last year. I also met a nurse who had been on the battlefields from 1936 to 1939. I was deeply touched by the veterans' stories."
In all, a great and long-overdue day. Finally, those who took action to help the Spanish Republic against the combined Fascist forces of Franco, Mussolini and Hitler were given some official honour. Credit goes to the New Democratic government of British Columbia for providing space for this monument. The driving force behind project is Tom Kozar, recently retired Vice-President of the British Columbia Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU).
Tom can be contacted at:
3906 Creekside Place,
Burnaby, B.C. V5G 4P9,