The Canadian Veterans Oral History Project
This project is designed to both preserve experiences of Canadian military veterans for future generations; so as to provide ready access of primary sources for historians, and for students to learn from veterans.
a. To fund the ‘Veterans Oral History’ seminar course in the University’s Department of History. This course teaches up to 12 students each year on the basics of oral history techniques and on the shape of Canadian military history since 1939.
b. To provide opportunities for students taking this course to conduct oral history interviews with veterans from all three Services to record their personal histories and experiences. These interviews are used by students as primary sources in writing essays for the course.
c. To record and catalogue the interviews undertaken by the students so as to augment the existing collection of military oral history interviews housed in the Special Collection Division of the University of Victoria Library.
d. As a longer term objective and using the course and other relevant sources, to establish the University of Victoria as a unique Canadian repository and center for military oral interviews and to make them accessible to a world-wide audience of researchers, historians and the general public.
- The UVic Department of History will:
- Arrange for the teaching of a seminar course on oral history.
- Provide opportunities for students in other courses to conduct oral history interviews of veterans.
- Support fund raising for the project:
- $6,000 will fund a one semester course.
- $10,000 will fund real-time collection for one year.
- Provide logistical support for the project, i.e.: tape recorders, etc.
- UVic Special Collections will:
- House the oral history interviews.
- Provide technical support for cataloging and making oral history interviews available to the general public.
- Support fund raising for the project:
- $5,000 will fund the collection infrastructure for one year.
- The Royal United Services Institute, Vancouver Island Chapter will:
- Provide coordination and support for instructors, interviewers, and students.
- Assist in arranging interviews with veterans.
- Provide suggestions for potential guest speakers to be used in history courses.
- Support fund raising for the project.
- Provide logistical support for the project, i.e. tape recorders, digital voice recorders, digital video cameras, etc.
- Host the instructors and students annually at a RUSI-VI luncheon.
For a pictorial representation of the project roles and their relationships, refer to Project-at-a-Glance.
Synopsis of the Semester Course
The semester course was orginally modeled upon a trial project successfully completed under the direction of Professor David Zimmerman (Military History). During the first winter term, five students from a senior undergraduate course selected essay topics, and then were matched with RUSI-VI veterans who had been involved with the events of the topic.
Their topics, and interviewees were:
- Normandy, The breakout – Former Lt. Gov. R. Rogers
- RCAF Bombing operations over Europe – F/L .G Wright
- Cyprus, the early days – BGen (Ret) L Gollner
- Naval air Operations – Col S. Brygadyr
- Korea – Kapyong – LCol (Ret) John Bishop.
A that time, afive hour (each hour separate) seminar was developed by Dr. Reginald Roy and Dr. John Eggenberger of RUSI-VI, which enabled the students to conduct a responsible interview, record IT on tape, and then use the material as a primary source for the essay.
The accompanying article From Memory to Artifact: The Recorded Interview was used for the seminar. In the article will be found a general overview of the ways and means to collect oral history information.
Archives and Special Collections:
Within the University of Victoria Library Special Collections resides a Canadian Military Oral History Collection that is composed of hundreds of taped and transcribed interviews of veterans of primarily the World Wars. Over 370 recordings done by Dr. Reginald Roy and his students are the largest holding in this category. Summaries of the interviews can be found if by searching the Canadian Military Oral history collection by Subject. Dr. Roy also contributed 63 tapes of lectures given to his classes on Canadian foreign affairs and Military Strategic Studies. The largest number of these interviews is the Major General George R. Pearkes Collection. The collection also contains materials donated by historian Hal Lawrence these comprise more than 180 recordings that he did of Canadian naval personnel.
It took thirty years to record approximately 400 reels of tape in these collections. Many of the interviews were made by Dr. Roy’s students working part-time on DND funds. Each interview has thus to be seen not as an assembly of facts. It is rather a product of collaboration between the interviewer and the interviewee. What is said on each tape must be heard, and is indeed listed in this guide, in the context of not just the interviewee but also of the interviewer and the project they represent.
The collection has subsequently been used consistently by historians and researchers from across Canada and in Europe. Some examples:
- R.H. Roy – book on Pearkes and D.Day and others.
- Zuehlke, Mark. Three books on WW II military operations: Ortona, Gothic Line, Canadian Military Atlas.
- C.H. Johnson, 2002 writing a battle study of Operation Totalize, August. 1944.
- Canada, A Peoples History – extensive use.
- Geoffrey W. Hayes – University of Waterloo.
- Kevin Shackleton – Locating the Battle Amiens.
- LCol Angelo N. Caravaggio – thesis on Major-General Kitching.
- M. Desmond Paine – History of the Saskatoon Light Infantry.
- Dr. David Bercuson, History of the P.P.C.L.I..
- Dr. J.L. Granatstein, Canada’s Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace.
- Often very touching are the requests for copies of tapes from spouses, children and grandchildren of the officers and men.
UVic Library, Special Collections Websites
Canadian Military Oral History Collections Guide:
Canadian Military Oral Histories Collection Database:
RUSI VI Support to the project
At the outset of the program, RUSI-VI formed a liaison group that had as its purpose to supply certain oversight to the project and to locate suitable veterans for interviews. This function was later taken over by the RUSI-VI Board of Directors. Considerable thought and work is devoted to making sure that the relationship between the student and the veteran is positive. Meetings are set up, as needed, and administrative matters of a variety of sorts enables the work to get done on time and in an efficient manner. It is intended that RUSI VI will continue to carry out this mandate during the life of this project.
UVic Development and External Relations
An account with the UVic Development and External Relations department was authorized when the program was established. In this account will be deposited donations, and tax receipts for all donations will be issued by the University of Victoria as appropriate. The name of the initiative is “The University of Victoria – Royal United Military Institute, Vancouver Island Veterans Oral History Project”. Dr. David Zimmerman, Professor of Military History, University of Victoria will manage the project, and will be authorized to disburse funds from the account in support of the project.
Summary of Implementation Plan
An ongoing activity is to acquire oral history materials as soon as is practicable.
Funds needed for the project are over of $20,000 annually. These funds will be dedicated such that $6,000 will be used to deliver the semester course, $10,000 for the collection and cataloging of oral history materials, and some $5,000 to defray the costs of operating the oral history section of the special collections area, located in the McPherson Library of the University of Victoria.
Dr. David Zimmerman, Professor, Military History University of Victoria.
Maj (Ret’d) Gary Del Villano, Royal United Military Institute, Vancouver Island.
Heather Dean, Head of Special Collections, University of Victoria.
Katherine Blake, Development Officer, Faculty of Humanities and UVic Libraries, University of Victoria.