This is a view of Ex Coelis Mountain, a collection of iconic, pyramid-like peaks in David Thompson Country, along Highway 11 between Nordegg and Saskatchewan River Crossing. This particular scene was during winter, when Abraham Lake was frozen. The dropping water level created a fractured, contoured expanse of ice, over which the triangular Ex Coelis mountain peaks rose skyward. It's one of my favourite views in a favourite area of Alberta.
Today is November 11, Remembrance Day, memorializing the end of hostilities in the "Great War", which all too soon became only the First of the World Wars. So I reflect on the name of this mountain, officially assigned in the 1990's. "Ex Coelis" is the motto of the First Canadian Parachute Battalion, whose members fought in World War II.
The 5 main peaks of Ex Coelis each have their own names. "Normandy", "Ardennes" and "Rhine" are named for significant battles in which the battalion fought. "Elbe" is named for the German river where the battalion contacted the advancing Russian army. And "Stan Waters" is named in honour of a distinguished Canadian commander.
Many times when I look at this view, as I do tonight, I think about the history behind these names. War is a terrible thing, even if it is sometimes necessary. There can be no doubt that large scale armed conflict brings out the worst of humanity's interactions, while at the same time many who fight or are otherwise caught up in conflict exemplify the noblest of traits -- service, courage, commitment, heroism, and even sacrifice. It's a complex thing, war; about which platitudes are easily dispensed but wisdom is hard-won.
Among those who may read this, there are probably many opinions on whether war can ever be necessary, or lead to anything good. Whether service in the country's military is the mark of a hero or somebody who has fallen for an out-dated notion of duty. Whether the political and military leaders who direct our forces are trustworthy, or fools easily swayed by arrogance, greed, or fear. Whether all problems can be solved by diplomacy, or some swords must be held back from being beaten into plowshares.
I do believe that the freedoms we enjoy today are in part the consequence of past generations of servicemen and servicewomen who made sacrifices, paying unthinkable costs and enduring tremendous burdens, so that others would not have to. And despite our range of opinions, I suspect we can all agree on this: we should today strive to continue building strong communities within a well-founded nation that welcomes those willing to live and work together in mutual respect, opportunity and justice. A country whose people a new generation will be proud to serve and defend if -- God forbid -- the need arises. If we do this, we honour the sacrifices of those who have gone before, support those who are serving now, and perhaps make our best attempts at preventing the need for such sacrifices in the future.
Reading tonight, I came across a quote from a French historian who lived and died before the advent of the 20th century's world wars. Ernest Renan said there are two things needed to build a nation. "One is the possession in common of a rich trove of memories; the other is actual consent, the desire to live together, the will to continue to value the undivided, shared heritage....To have had glorious moments in common in the past, a common will in the present, to have done great things together and to wish to do more, those are the essential conditions for a people. We love the nation in proportion to the sacrifices to which we consented, the harms that we suffered."
Ex Coelis Mountain symbolizes one portion of the trove of memories, created by generations before us, that makes up the Canada we have lived in. The desire and will to continue to live together and create a further shared heritage is up to us, if we want to ensure the memories we acknowledge on Remembrance Day were not created in vain.