“A nation is a collection of stories. Where they overlap, they represent a shared experience and an inter-generational legacy. In their uniqueness, they underscore just how varied our individual lives are.”
This is the introduction to Legacies 150. The project, a series of interactive essays that tell the stories of 13 unique Canadians, is an exploration of “nationhood” as we live it. What is a nation? Indeed, why is a nation? Legacies 150 brings together storytellers from around Canada to share their experiences, in an attempt to answer these questions.
And, of all the stories that could have been told, they selected that of local veteran René Bertrand to be one of them.
“My first time on a boat, I was four years old,” the story begins. “[…] I loved the feeling of unsteadiness…”
The platform then launches into a sweeping, heartbreaking narrative of Bertrand’s experience as a sailor in the Canadian Navy. From his very first rowboat to his decision to join the navy at 16, while still underage; from his first battle to the death of his brother in the Air Force; through narrative and journal entries, accompanied by moving graphics and haunting sound, “Recruited by Water” tells the story of a Champlain boy who was forced to grow up before his time.
“After the war ended,” says Bertrand, “It took me 20 years to be able to talk about it.” But he has, and the results are breathtaking.
Though the L’Orignal native was only 21 when World War II ended, he had served for five years. After his return, he was put in charge of his uncle’s oil company – and has been an active and engaged member of the community ever since. A founding member of the Hawkesbury branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, he has contributed to veterans’ rights movements for decades, dedicating his life to public education and awareness. In short, he has not only served his country, but his community; and his contributions have helped it become the supportive and inclusive place it is today.
To read “Recruited by Water,” and the twelve other stories in Legacies 150, visit legacies150.nfb.ca. (Information and quotes from legacies150.nfb.ca.)