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Advanced Education, Training and Technology

Monument to Spanish Civil War's Mac-Paps veterans unveiled

04/12/1998

VICTORIA -- British Columbians who joined the the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion to fight for democracy in Spain were honoured in ceremonies at the legislature today, 60 years after they returned from the battles of the Spanish Civil War.

A monument in Victoria's Confederation Park and a plaque in the legislature's rotunda were unveiled in a ceremony attended by Premier Glen Clark and some of B.C.'s surviving veterans from the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, which fought in Spain between 1936 and 1939 as part of the International Brigades against the fascist forces of Gen. Francisco Franco. The Spanish Civil War was a precursor to the Second World War.

"Acknowledgment of these veterans' sacrifice is long overdue," said Clark. "We are pleased and proud to pay homage to these forgotten war heroes, to honour their brave, early attempt to overcome fascism, years before most democratic governments realized that fascism would drag Europe and most of the world into war."

About 1,400 Canadians volunteered to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War, and between 600 and 800 died. An estimated 30 to 40 Canadian veterans are still alive.

"We are honoured that British Columbians are paying tribute to the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion," said veteran Arnie Knutson. "This recognizes the 400 men and women from our province who went to Spain 60 years ago to defend democracy. Half of them never came home."

The Confederation Park monument includes eight boulders. Bronze medallions are attached to three of the boulders. The legislature plaque is in the same area as another that honours Canada's Second World War merchant navy, whose contributions were not acknowledged until many years after the war.

"We hope recognizing these and other veterans will remind us all of the horrors of past wars and the need to work for peace in the next millennium," said Intergovernmental Relations Minister Andrew Petter.

The monument is the work of the B.C. Memorial Committee Veterans and Friends of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, an independent public group dedicated to honouring the forgotten Canadian heroes of the Spanish Civil War. The committee raised $60,000 for the monument, which was made by B.C. craftspeople. The memorial is being turned over to the province as a gift from the committee.

Although the story of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion is half-forgotten in Canada, it was big news in the 1930s. The 1939 return of the British Columbia veterans from Spain drew a crowd of 10,000 people to the Vancouver train station, about a tenth of the city's population at the time.

The Spanish government has also honoured the veterans. This included the 1996 grant of honourary Spanish citizenship to all members of the International Brigades. Other North American monuments to Spanish Civil War veterans have been raised in Toronto and Seattle over the last few years.

Committee spokesperson Joe Barrett said, "Today's ceremony helps to bring closure to a long process of recognizing these veterans. The monument and plaque will serve as lasting memorial to them and a reminder of the cause in which they fought and died."

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For information:

Jean Wolff Press Secretary to the Premier ( 250) 387-1718 (office) (250) 812-2849 (cell)

BACKGROUNDER

British Columbia's Memorial to Spanish Civil War Veterans

What it is

--Monument in honour of the British Columbians and Canadians who volunteered to help defend the Spanish Republic against fascist attack during the 1930s. These men and women served in or provided support to the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion of the International Brigades.

Where it is

--The monument is located in Confederation Park, across the street from the British Columbia legislative buildings. It includes eight installed boulders and a bronze plaque on a raised plinth.

--A memorial plaque has also been installed in the rotunda of the legislature.

Who it honours

--The monument honours about 400 British Columbians and 1,400 Canadians who went to Spain between 1936 and 1939 to help the Spanish Republic in its defence against fascists, who were assisted by Nazi Germany and Italy.

--It is estimated that 600 to 800 of the 1,400 Canadian volunteers died in Spain.

--All Canadian participants (like members of the International Brigades from other countries such as the United States, Great Britain, France and Mexico) were volunteers who went to Spain to defend the principles of democracy. At the time, the governments of Western nations chose not to become involved in the war. The fascist victory in 1939 was followed almost immediately by the German invasion of other European countries and the start of the Second World War.

--International Brigades were divided by language group. The English speaking brigade (XVth) was made up of British, U.S. and Canadian volunteers. The British and U.S. participated with roughly 3,000 volunteers each. Canadians in the XVth Brigade totalled 1,400.

--The "Mac-Paps," the MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion, was named after the heroes of the rebellion of 1837, William Lyon Mackenzie and Louis-Joseph Papineau. The name symbolizes the struggle for effective democratic institutions that had taken place 100 years before in Canada. The 1837 rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada had been led by William Lyon MacKenzie in Upper Canada (Ontario) and by Papineau in Lower Canada (Quebec).

--It is estimated that about 30 to 40 Canadian veterans are still alive today.

Who is behind it

--The monument was initiated, planned and funded by the B.C. Memorial Committee Veterans and Friends of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, an independent public group dedicated to honouring the forgotten Canadian heroes of the Spanish Civil War.

Monument facts and figures

--The boulders are basalt stone extracted from an abandoned B.C. Rail quarry north of Squamish. Three of the boulders have logos installed on them: one depicting the dogwood, British Columbia's official flower; one depicting the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion logo; and one depicting the International Brigades logo.

--The parliament buildings plaque bears the following inscription: "In memory of those British Columbians who served in the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion of the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939."

--The cost of the monument and plaque was $58,000, which was raised by the B.C. Memorial Committee Veterans and Friends of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion. No government money was given to the committee for the construction of this memorial.

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