Convoy PQ. 17

If I asked you, what was Canada's greatest WWII effort you might not be able to give me an answer? This is a sad but common fact when one is faced with a question on Canadian history. Bill Coleman is blessed with the vision and energy to turn this state of affairs around. Culture and history must live to stay relevant in a person's mind; Coleman revitalizes a dynamic (but neglected) period of world history with his requiem for orchestra, chorus and dancers to commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-day. Convoy PQ. 17 is a far cry from the average parade organized by Heritage Canada Veteran's society-a big slow association seemingly incapable of moving with the present in order to carry our history to future generations.
Canadians need a more vital way to commemorate our heroes, one that involves artists and young people-two groups who will carry important messages to the future generations. While WWII was just 60 years ago, our life link to that time period is quickly vanishing. The Veterans are passing away everyday and sometime in the near future there won't be anyone to walk through our midst as the gentle reminder of sacrifice and bravery for a great cause and the good of humanity. Coleman has taken Canadian culture into his own hands with this personal effort to produce an electrifying show that brings our history to life. An innovative choreographer and renowned dancer (Martha Graham Dance Co, Toronto Dance Theatre, Jean-Pierre Perreault), Coleman has called Christopher Butterfuield (Victoria Symphony's resident composer-as well as a son of a merchant seaman) and David Gaucher (designer for Cirque Du Soleil) to set his dreams in motion.
Coleman related a brief synopsis to me over the phone and was generous with his limited time. The story of the convoys is familiar to those in Halifax or Russia but quite mysterious to the rest of the nation! No wonder we lack history and unity when our best tales are modestly hidden away form national light. Before the US entered WWII Canada's most important contribution to the war was our convoys. In the battle of the Atlantic, those who controlled the Ocean would win the war and Canada was in the driver's seat. No one would deny Canadian bravery but few realize how dangerous it was getting the convoys through to Russia. Regular navy mortality was 1 in 26 but in the Merchant Navy the death rate was 1 in 8! Many who volunteered where only 14 or 15 years of age and they were one of the last to receive compensation in the 1990s for their war efforts.
The PQ. 17 was on its way to North Russia when the British admiralty withdrew its military escort en route. Suddenly 38 ships full of lives and precious supplies lay vulnerable to enemy attack. Some chose to scuttle their boats while others painted their crafts white and hid in the ice floes. Unable to give up, they continued on their way to Russia but German planes and U-boats sank 23 of the ships. Coleman's father was one of the few to continue on in emergency crafts, floating in the Barents Sea until rescued by sailors.
As there was no way to get supplies to Russia by land, the convoys were the only way to ship supplies. Comparable to the sentiments found in Holland, Russians remember the convoys and their sailors. National holidays where often declared upon their arrival. When Convoy PQ. 17 premiered in St. Petersburg, Russia it was declared an undeniable success. Undoubtedly, this is the better format to remember our stories and keep them alive to our senses.
Sunday the 6th at 8pm at Salle Pierre Mercure, Centre Pierre Peladeau will be a noteworthy night that hopefully will start a trend toward more productions with better support from Canadian institutions. Coleman and his supporters are blazing a new trail with Convoy PQ. 17-one that will hopefully lead us to a brighter and better world.
Centre Pierre-Peladeau : 300, boul. De Maisonneuve Est
Box office: 514.987.6919
Tickets: 36.95$ tax included; Group rate: 20 tickets at 31.50$, 21st ticket free
For information please contact:
Coleman Lemiux & Compagnie: 514.744.1233

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