by J. Kathleen Thompson
A graduating student of GFSS, Connor Hawes, has won a Colonel Douglas H. Gunter History Award of $1,000. Offered through the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, and open to Grade 12 students across Canada, Hawes is one of five students nation-wide recognized for their outstanding submission to this year’s competition.
Asked to consider how the experience of war has changed someone’s life through text, visual art, audio or video production, Connor’s essay, “Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times,” explores the lasting significance of his grandmother’s experience as a young child in Libya during the Second World War.
Hawes said, “I wasn’t aware of that part of my grandmother’s life until we were standing outside the Parliament Buildings in Victoria one Canada Day, and she was particularly disturbed by the sound of firecrackers and sirens we heard. When she told me that ever since the war she has wanted to run and hide whenever she hears sirens, I knew this was a story that I needed to know more about and that needed to be told.
“Wars are not about the number of people that die, they’re about each individual life that is dramatically affected and forever changed when war erupts in your country and on your street.”
In his essay, Hawes portrays the realities of his Italian grandmother’s family when they were repositioned by Mussolini to Libya (which had been annexed by Italy) in 1937. When the war began, Hawes’ great-grandfather was captured when Italian forces were sent into Egypt, not to be reunited with his family until after the war.
His grandmother (who was only five when the war broke out) and mother found shelter in a hospital and school operated by nuns in Tobruk, where, while surrounded by the daily horrors of war, the regime of order and devotion imposed by the nuns armed them with the fortitude needed to endure the war, and in their case, agonizing uncertainty about her father.
Hawes’ essay traces how his grandmother’s extraordinary formative years provided the pluck and strength of mind needed for the challenges ahead, first as an immigrant (her family resettled in Trail, B.C.) and then as a teacher in small rural communities in the Kootenays.
Family mettle is likely behind Hawes’ exceptional accomplishments as a student; this was just one of many scholarships he earned this past spring. He plans to put his array of talents to use as he pursues a bachelor of arts degree this fall, which he hopes will lead eventually to service in the field of criminal justice and law.