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Commemorating Canadian World War sites

November 6, 2015

Standing in the footsteps of those who fought for Canada in places such as the D-Day landing beaches of Normandy and Vimy Ridge in France can evoke a profound sense of the contribution and sacrifices made by our soldiers.

Master of Arts in Tourism Management student Natalie Thiesen had a strong emotional experience of her own in France during her field research as a recipient of the inaugural Juno Beach Centre Fellowship program. In September 2015, Thiesen spent eight days at the Juno Beach Centre in Normandy and three days at the Canadian Vimy Ridge Memorial in Nord-Pas de Calais conducting interviews with Canadian visitors following their experience at the sites.

“Visiting the Juno Beach Centre and standing in the place where so many Canadians sacrificed their lives is something every Canadian should experience,” says Thiesen. “There were so many incredible moments during my time at Juno and at Vimy. The first time I stood on the beach at Courseulles-sur-Mer facing the shore—the same perspective as the Canadians soldiers on the morning of June 6, 1944—it brought tears to my eyes.”

Thiesen’s research examines the experience of Canadians when they visit Canadian “sites of memory” of the First and Second World Wars.

“The purpose of my research is to increase visitation to Canadian sites of memory in order to better commemorate the contributions of Canadians soldiers, to better learn about and appreciate what happened and ensure their sacrifices will never be forgotten,” she says.

Thiesen hopes to learn from the motivations, observations and experiences of Canadian visitors to help attract more Canadians to visit these sites in the years to come.

Learning about our war history is an important aspect of remembrance, says Royal Roads Tourism Management graduate programs Associate Professor and Program Head Geoffrey Bird.

“Natalie’s work is an important opportunity to highlight Canada’s war heritage overseas, and to highlight the deeper learning associated with visiting these sites of memory,” says Bird.

The Juno Beach Fellowship program is open to graduate students and PhD candidates in the field of Canadian history in a variety of disciplines and is operated by the Juno Beach Centre Association.

Thiesen says she is grateful to receive the fellowship and hopes her research will contribute to ensuring more Canadians make the trip to France to visit these important and historic sites. 

“The experience made me incredibly proud to be Canadian,” says Thiesen.