Understanding a nation’s history often starts with going to the source, and it’s in this spirit that we’re commemorating Canada’s past and the important role Canadians played during World War I on a specially curated tour of Belgium and France. Travelers will join award-winning journalist Mark Reid of Canada’s History, and visit the sites of pivotal battles that took place during the war. Here, Reid shares what he hopes travelers get out of this immersive journey—and the moments he is most looking forward to.
Go Ahead Tours: Tell me a little about yourself and Canada’s History!
Mark Reid: Canada’s History Society is a national non-profit organization with an ambitious mission: to turn more people on to their nation’s history. We believe that all Canadians have a story to share, and that collectively, these stories are the threads that make up the tapestry of the nation. As for myself, I spent years as a newspaper reporter and editor before transitioning to magazines. During my reporting career, I was able to travel both the country and the world in search of stories. At Canada’s History, I am the Editor-in-Chief of our print magazine, as well as our website, canadashistory.ca. I have also published five books, including three national bestsellers. Our most recent book, “Canada’s Great War Album,” explores the centennial of the war through the stories of the average, everyday Canadians who were most affected by it.
EF Go Ahead Tours believes in opening the world through education, and that the best way to learn about the world is to experience it. In what ways does that mission align with the values and mission of Canada’s History?
I couldn’t agree more. Getting the opportunity to retrace the past by actually visiting the places where history happened can be a life-changing experience. I know it was for me—I was fortunate enough to visit some of the major battlefield sites in Europe during the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. I’ll tell you, standing on that ridge, and contemplating the countless lives that were sacrificed to secure it, was an experience I will never forget.
What do you hope to share with travelers during the journey?
As a journalist and historian, the most important thing for me is to forge an emotional connection between our guests and the places and people they will meet on their collective journey. In some cases, this will mean reconnecting with people that are now long gone. The last of our First World War veterans passed away in 2010. We owe it to the Great War generation to ensure their voices are still heard, and to pass on their legacy to future generations. Although the Great War now seems like a long-ago conflict, its legacy is still being felt today.
You’re planning a variety of on-tour lectures—can you give us a sneak peek?
In “Canada’s Great War Album,” we featured a host of stories and never-before-seen photos, all contributed by Canadians from across the country. The stories were emotional and poignant—in some cases, tragic, but in others, uplifting and even heroic. Throughout them all, there were commonalities: the ideas of sacrifice, brotherhood among soldiers, and the enduring and undying love that was shared with family members on the home front. We learned about the crucial roles women played supporting the war effort. And we learned about the battlefields so very far away from the home front, where too many young men died. As we visit these sacred places on tour, I hope to share the stories of the many sacrifices that occurred at them, and how they still resonate today with so many Canadians.
With your extensive knowledge about Canada’s role in the First World War, what are you personally looking forward to learning on this tour?
Every day is a new opportunity to learn. I am really looking forward to meeting our fellow travelers, speaking with them about their motivations for joining our tour, hearing their Great War stories, and sharing mine with them. Only by sharing these stories do we bring them to life.
How do you think traveling impacts our understanding of pivotal moments in history?
You can read as many books as you like, study old maps, and look at grainy black-and-white photos of moments from long ago. These are all very important and admirable endeavors. But until you have stood at the ridge at Vimy, walked in the pock-marked shell craters at Beaumont-Hamel, or stood and contemplated the meaning of sacrifice on the Normandy shore, you will never have the full picture of history. That’s why tours like this are so vital to our understanding of the World Wars.
Which portions of this trip are you the most excited for and why?
To be honest, the entire itinerary is so amazing, it’s difficult to choose. I haven’t been to Paris before, so I’m very excited for the opportunity. My family has Acadian roots on my mother’s side, and the Acadians originally emigrated from northwestern France, so just to be able to retrace the steps of my French ancestors will be a real thrill.
What do you hope everyone takes away from this commemorative tour?
My wish is that everyone on the tour finds that piece of Great War history that resonates most for them. It will be different for each traveler. For some, it will likely be their first time visiting these sites. Others may be retracing previous journeys, perhaps visiting the final resting places of their ancestors who fought in the war. Above all, we want to complete our journey collectively transformed by our experiences, and able and eager to share them with our friends and loved ones back home. It’s the sharing of these experiences that ultimately brings us all closer together as a country, and a people.
Interested in traveling with Reid on this immersive trip? Call the EF Go Ahead Tours Toronto Team at 1.800.719.9805 or visit goaheadtours.ca/canadashistory to learn more and reserve your place before spaces run out!