One form of remembrance: mapping Toronto’s World War II casualties

Today, Canadians across the country will observe Remembrance Day.  The tradition of remembering the casualties of war on November 11 first began in 1919, following the end of the First World War.  Through public commemorations or more private ways, citizens will think about the sacrifices of thousands of men and women who have risked their lives for country, faith, and a multitude of other reasons.  Moreover, Canadians will also consider the meaning of war and its impact on society, an issue particularly important because of the country’s long involvement in Afghanistan.

OpenFile, a website that connects community members with journalists, has created a timely “Poppy File”.  OpenFile urges the public to suggest story topics that then undergo a process of collaboration.  The Poppy File includes a number of items that use digital media forms to present the experiences of war remembrance related to the Second World War.

One of the Poppy File’s most interesting items is an article and accompanying map that uses typed index cards – created by the Toronto city clerk’s office and now housed in the city archives – to trace the residential location of the city’s war casualties from 1942 to 1945 on a contemporary map of Toronto.  These index cards formed the basis of the city’s Book of Remembrance, located at City Hall.  Patrick Cain, who coded the more than 3,300 cards, notes that this form of mapping “joins two kinds of knowledge: our existing picture of the familiar city and some new knowledge superimposed on it.”  Combining the card data with the present map of Toronto is, to Cain, “an exercise in recovered local memory.”  Many viewers of the map will surely go to areas of personal importance in Toronto to see the number of poppies – residences of the war dead – located near their own places of meaning.  In line with the collaborative intentions of OpenFile, readers have already begun to contribute the addresses of individuals close to them who died during the war but are left off the map.

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