2016 Whig Standard

'Magical quality' to evening of peace
By Julia Balakrishnan 
August 5th, 2016 (Link to original)


On Saturday, Kingston will be hosting events not in celebration, but in remembrance and reflection, on the same day American atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War in 1945.

The Hiroshima Day Coalition — a collaboration of organizations PeaceQuest, Amherst International, and the Sisters of Providence — are hosting a peace lantern ceremony, as they have for the past 30 years, in McBurney Park at 7 p.m.

Preceding the ceremony will be an interfaith peace walk, which last year attracted 50 participants. The walk is open to those of all faiths and philosophies, spiritual and secular and will be starting at 6:30 p.m. at City Park and end at McBurney Park for the lantern ceremony.

Jolene Simko, administrative co-ordinator of PeaceQuest, describes it as a "silent walk for contemplation," although the silence is optional. This year, the Kingston Stilters are participating, and will be making the walk on stilts, a circus act transformed to suit the serious tone of the evening.

"The purpose of the walk is to add additional meditative opportunity. The walk creates a space for folks who wish to express how they feel about Hiroshima and work toward an atomic, nuclear-free world," Simko said.

Simko said the walk’s focus on inclusion comes from a notion that people have "much more in common than there are differences."

"We all have a desire to live in a peaceful world, and we all would benefit from a society free of violence," she said.

"Every time a community gets together to express common values, it strengthens those values. We could have events highlighting our pride and our prowess on the battlefield, but that sends a certain message that may be more harmful than we realize."

The peace ceremony will feature crafts, origami, live music, storytelling and of course the making and lighting of peace lanterns at dusk.

There will also be immersive slideshows of the aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — content recommended only for adults — and an interview with Julie Salverson, a drama professor at Queen’s who is releasing a book titled Lines of Flight: An Atomic Memoir in September.

Lines of Flight follows the atomic highway and makes a very real Canadian connection with the detonation of the atomic bombs, particularly with a focus on the mining of uranium in the Arctic regions of Canada. It will be one of the featured titles at Kingston Writersfest.

"Sometimes when we have these big world issues so far away, it seems distant from our everyday lives," explained Hiroshima Day Coalition organizer Wendy Perkins. "[Salverson] sends a powerful message for all of us on how to connect with them on a personal level."

At 6:30 in McBurney Park, there will also be a drum circle hosted by Yessica Rivera Belsham and Kyoka Ogoda, as well as tai chi classes and an opening chant.

At the end of the ceremony, each individually made lantern will be set to float in the park’s pool.

"If someone told me that they were floating lanterns in a kiddie pool, I would be skeptical," noted Perkins, "but it’s not like you’d expect. There’s a certain magical quality to the evening that’s quite moving."

The interfaith peace walk will begin in City Park at 6:30, and the drum circle will begin in McBurney Park at the same time. The lantern ceremony will begin at 7 p.m.

2015 Whig Standard

Hiroshima Bombing Remembered

By Michael Lea
Tuesday August 4th, 2015 (Link to original)
 Kyoko Ogoda, left, founder of the Kings Don Taiko drumming group, and Wendy Luella Perkins, an organizer of the annual Hiroshima Day ceremony, to be held in McBurney Park on Thursday at 7 p.m. prepare for the ceremony in Kingston. (Michael Lea/The Whig-Standard) 

Participants in this Thursday evening’s commemoration of Hiroshima Day will be standing on the graves of one group of people as they mourn the deaths of another.

The 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and the destruction of Nagasaki three days later, will once again be marked in McBurney Park, better known as Skeleton Park because it holds the unmarked graves of some of the city’s earliest residents.

It is estimated 10,000 people were buried in the land that now houses the park, ranging from soldiers to townspeople who died in cholera epidemics.

But even that number pales when compared to the 130,000 Japanese who died instantly from the two bombs, with thousands more becoming ill and dying from the radiation they left behind.

The politics and ethics behind the decision to use the bombs are still being debated, but it is the threat still posed by nuclear war that is the focus of the evening, said Wendy Luella Perkins, part of the coalition that puts on the event.

The group is composed of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul, Amnesty International’s Kingston branch and PeaceQuest, as well as individuals from the community.

“There might be differing opinions from people that come,” Perkins said. “What we are focusing on is that atomic weapons are devastating for civilians.”

The bombs have long-term effects that other forms of warfare don’t, she said.

“I would think that everybody that comes would say that atomic weapons are a devastating way to make war.”

Hiroshima Day has been marked in Kingston for the past 30 years. It was originally held in Confederation Park but moved to McBurney Park four years ago.

Perkins said the atmosphere in Confederation Park just wasn’t right for the ceremony.

“We wanted to have a sense of solemnity as part of the ceremony, and it is very hard there to have that because there is a lot of street traffic, there are a lot of people walking their dogs and doing fun things in the park. We found it hard to have that sense of gravitas.”

She said the ceremony can be “quite moving” and is best experienced by staying for the entire evening. But in Confederation Park, people tended to wander in and out, denying the event a sense of cohesion.

For the floating of the lanterns, the fountain in Confederation Park has given way to the children’s wading pool in McBurney Park. Organizers weren’t sure at first if the smaller pool would be appropriate, Perkins said.

“But actually it is beautiful.”

After a procession with the lit lanterns through the park, everyone stands in a circle around the pool and the lanterns are brought in.

“It is an intense sense of community.”

The children sit with their feet in the water as the lanterns float by and the whole group sings.
“It is very meaningful,” Perkins said.

For the second year, PeaceQuest is holding an interfaith walk that precedes the 7 p.m. ceremony in McBurney Park. It will begin at the Peace Tree in City Park, at the corner of Barrie and Bagot streets, at 6:15 p.m. and will then continue through the downtown to the ceremony.

Perkins felt the walk allowed them to be more inclusive and expose more people to the event.
“We wanted to have something that was walking through the city streets so that people who were just out and about in Kingston would see this going on. We might find people that have no idea the event is happening in Kingston.”

They might even join in the walk, she said.

It will be a silent walk and so the meditative aspect to it is also important, Perkins added.

“I think that silent walk also prepares your heart, in a way, for remembering.”

Two drumming groups, one native and one Japanese, will be taking part. The indigenous aspect was important to include since the ceremony is being held on ancestral land, Perkins said.
There will be two speakers at the event.

Cathy Vakil is a family doctor and a member of Physicians for Global Survival and has done work on the health effects of nuclear weapons and power.

Julie Salverson is a drama professor at Queen’s University and has produced an opera on the issue.
It will be a family-friendly evening with activities such as lantern-making, origami, colouring, music and storytelling for the kids.

For adults only, a tent will be set up with a video playing inside that details the horrors of the atomic bombing.

“Having public ceremonies is really important,” Perkins said.

Different cultures have their own ceremonies to mark special events, but Hiroshima Day spans those divisions, she said.

“To have something that really incorporates the entire community, to come together and mark the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70 years ago this week, and to remember those horrors and to pledge and recommit ourselves to walking in peace together, to me that is so important. We need more of that to remember the best and worst of ourselves.”

Even a small group of people gathered in a park can make a difference in the world, Perkins insisted.
She quoted a Chinese philosopher from 2,600 years ago who believed peace among nations depended on peace in individual people’s hearts.

“You can feel powerless for sure when you look at these international forces and (wonder) what effect can you have. The only power I have is really in my own heart,” Perkins said.
An event like Hiroshima Day in Kingston spreads outwards like a ripple in a pond, she said.
“It’s an empowering experience, I find, every year.”

It is possible for activists to become discouraged over time, but a good turnout at an event like Hiroshima Day can reinvigorate them as they realize many other people share their concerns.
“Part of it is that hopefulness that we are not alone.”

Perkins said the evening is also a chance for people to educate themselves on the issue.

“It’s to connect with our own hearts, but it’s also to stimulate our minds and to learn things. It is easy to say Hiroshima happened somewhere else, a long time ago, far away.”

But her own research showed some of the uranium used for the bomb was mined by Dene people in the Northwest Territories before being sent to Port Hope for refining.

So Canada played a major role in the matter, Perkins stressed.

“We are all interconnected. We live in a global society where we are all touching each other.”

2014 Whig Standard

Hiroshima day: Commemorating the day 135,000 people were vaporized, 
burned or poisoned by the atom bomb 
by Jamie Swift

Kingston has long commemorated Hiroshima Day with an evening ceremony. Lately people have gathered beneath the century-old silver maples at Skeleton Park. They fashion origami peace cranes, listening to poetry and music. As darkness falls. They float tiny paper boats carrying candles that flicker across the water of the wading pool.

"This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world."

Participants repeat these 12 simple words in numerous languages. They've been borrowed from a plaque on the statue of Sadako Sasaki that stands at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Sadako was a 12-year-old girl killed by what her mother called "atom bomb disease."

Sadako believed that your wish would be granted if you folded a thousand paper cranes. She didn't survive to complete the task, so her friends did and the cranes were buried with her. For years, paper cranes have been a symbolic staple of commemorations marking the 135,000 people vaporized, burned or poisoned that terrible day.

This year, when the Aug. 6 ceremony unfolds at Kingston's former "common burial ground," it will coincide with another grim anniversary. A hundred years ago, on Aug. 4, 1914, Britain entered the First World War, dragging Canada into an industrialized slaughter of unimaginable scale.

Some 66,000 Canadians perished. Countless others suffered lasting physical and spiritual scars. Untold millions -- soldiers and civilians -- perished in Flanders and on the Somme. They also died in other imperial wars in the Balkans, Iraq and Africa that gave rise to WW I. And followed it.
How will the "Great War" (as it was called until the next world war broke out) be commemorated here in Canada?

Will we tell a story of the dignity of arms? An enthusiastic rush to the colours? Heroic sacrifice? How often will we hear repeated the deeply flawed, simplistic tale that the carnage somehow marked the birth of a nation?

Or will we set aside what Pierre Berton, that pre-eminent popularizer of Canadian history, lamented as "Vimy fever"?

When we reject the nation-forged-in-fire narrative, we're joining people in Flanders and the Somme who overwhelmingly commemorate a war that ravaged their homes by "remembering for peace?"

Hoping to find out more about WW I commemoration as I was starting work on a book about the war's Canadian legacy, I visited Vimy Ridge and other battlefields in France and Belgium this spring. I learned that, along with the killing fields on which so many soldiers fought and died, memory itself is contested terrain.

At the ceremony marking the 97th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, I listened to Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino speaking about the glorious legacy of war.

"The battlefields of Vimy were, in many ways, the birth of a nation, where Canada became recognized as a powerful force for peace and freedom."

Notwithstanding a unilingual English speech by a Canadian minister on French soil, I was struck by three other contradictions as I stood beneath Walter Allward's soaring Vimy Memorial.
Allward's magnificent monument has no tale of glory to tell. Along with the names of the dead, it features statues of women in mourning. The most prominent is "Canada Bereft," also known as "Mother Canada." This grief-stricken figure stares out over the green fields of France.

And, while the destruction of the weapons of war is virtually unknown in such monuments, Canada's most famous war memorial features The Breaking of the Sword, representing peace and the end of militarism. The original plan proposed a German coal scuttle helmet being crushed underfoot. But Allward, profoundly affected by the disgust with the mad orgy of slaughter that was so common in the 1920s and 1930s, rejected that image as "too militaristic."

I noticed another paradox when Mr. Fantino predictably invoked the Birth of a Nation mythology. Which nation? Vimy and the war in general threatened Canadian unity, with the conscription crisis fracturing Canada along English-French lines. I counted 40 Taylors and a single Tremblay among the alphabetized names chiselled into the base of the Vimy Memorial.

And lest we forget the pungent postwar description of Quebecers by one of English Canada's most influential journalistic pundits, J.W.Dafoe. While the Winnipeg editor described Vimy Ridge as "holy ground" on which men "by the tens of thousands died for mankind," he also labelled French Canadians "the only white race of quitters."

Finally, there's the bizarre notion that WW I had anything at all to do with "peace and freedom." It was a tragedy, pure and simple. A war fought between rival power blocs, sparked in good measure by rivalry over the corpse of a decaying Ottoman Empire in "a world still largely organized around hereditary monarchy."

I came across that observation in The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, Cambridge historian Christopher Clark's magisterial 2012 book that has emerged as the definitive analysis of WW I origins. Prof. Clark notes dryly that, in the run-up to 1914, the British were worried about "the prospect of the Germans acquiring privileged access to the oil fields of Ottoman Iraq."

As we remember the centenary of the Great War's beginning -- and as we mark its many tragic anniversaries over the next four years -- let's put aside any notions of the nobility of martial sacrifice. Or the glory of war.

Let's instead ponder the remembrance message of Hiroshima Day, Aug. 6.

A couple of years ago, as I watched the tiny lights float across the water in Skeleton Park, I noticed the signs adorning the wading pool fence: "We remember" in English and Japanese. "Bikes Not Bombs." And a variation on an old disarmament slogan: "War is inevitable, says the pessimist. War is impossible, says the optimist. War is inevitable unless we make it impossible, says the realist."

I also noticed a middle-aged woman (why are such gatherings so often comprised mostly of women?) standing at the back of the gathering. She was wearing a yellow ribbon around her neck.
But it didn't say "Support our troops." Nor was the ribbon complete. Instead, it was in the shape of the familiar "?"

It read Question War.

Hiroshima Day Kingston Peace Lantern Ceremony Hiroshima question war

2009 Whig Standard Letter to the Editor

Hiroshima Day held to send a message to governments

Re: Terence Cottrell's column "Remembering Nanking: Peaceniks aren't telling whole story" (Aug. 14). It is amazing that this insightful, talented writer could have missed the point of the Hiroshima remembrance ceremony on Aug. 6 in Confederation Park.

I believe Cottrell is saying that the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 should be seen in the context of the Japanese atrocities against the Chinese citizens of Nanking in 1937.

Lots of bad things happened in the 1930s and 1940s. The German Nazis opened the first concentration camp in 1933. In the pastoral countryside near Munich, Dachau became the death camp for gypsies, Jews and dissident priests and ministers.

Here in Canada, Christian Brothers beat and molested young boys in religious schools. We later found out that the state-supported so-called reform schools were really punishment prisons for children. We still use the term "bastard" for someone we don't like. In the 1930s, it was a common term for any child whose parents were not legally married.

The point of remembering Hiroshima and the bomb is to remind us of the power of this particular weapon. In the 1940s, most of us thought of the atomic bomb as just another big weapon. X-rays and the resulting radiation, we believed, were benign tools to set broken bones. Shoestores had little X-ray machines on the floor. You slid your foot in when wearing new shoes so you could see if the bones lined up with the shoe size.

It was later that we learned that death by radiation loosed from an airplane above the clouds that we couldn't even see doesn't take sides in a war. Global warming and air and water pollution are fixable with enough political will. Death and sickness from even a few atomic bombs are irreversible, and that is why we remember Hiroshima -- to tell governments around the world to say to their militaries "Never again," before it is too late.

Janet C. Miller Kingston

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