By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
Influenced by his beloved grandmother, an Oshawa teenager has earned the opportunity to visit the locations of some of Canada’s most historically significant military battles.
O’ Neill Collegiate and Vocational Institute student Eric Jose has been selected as one of 16 winners of the Vimy Foundation’s Beaverbrook Vimy Prize.
Jose, 16, told The Oshawa Express he was inspired to apply for the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize by his grandmother, who lived in Ottawa and had mailed him an advertisement for the competition she had seen in her local newspaper.
Sadly, she passed away before being able to proudly see her grandson win the honour.
“I felt strongly compelled to apply for this award, as it felt like one final way to connect with my Grandma who I always loved so deeply,” Jose says.
Interestingly enough, Jose noted that his grandmother had visited Europe the prior year and had seen some the same venues he will experience as well.
The Vimy Foundation is a national charity organization founded in 2006 with the mission, according to its website, to “preserve and promote Canada’s First World War legacy as symbolized with the victory at Vimy Ridge in April 1917, a moment where Canada came of age and was then recognized on the world stage.”
The Beaverbrook Vimy Prize is a summer scholarship for youth aged 15 to 17.
Jose will join 15 other students from Canada, the U.K. and France in visiting places with historical significance to Canada such as Dieppe, Passchendaele, Juno Beach and of course, Vimy Ridge. In addition, students will also attend lectures at Oxford University and visit Essex Farm in Belgium where John McRae wrote In Flanders Fields.
Although his love for history was undoubtedly cultivated by his grandmother, Jose says he has always been intrigued by Canada’s World War history.
“Part of my interest stems from always having great history teachers in school, who really enjoyed history themselves,” Jose explained.
He recalled back to an experience in his Grade 10 History class, where his teacher invited two Canadian veterans to speak to students.
Jose says on that occasion it was “amazing to hear them recount the situations they have been in.”
“I was always deeply intrigued in the conflicts of World War 1 and World War 2 because some of the fighting led to mass casualties, and many of the reasons behind the conflict, especially in the First World War, seemed very trivial,” Jose says. “I was very interested in understanding how these conflicts broke out, and how Canadian soldiers coped, and the tactics they used under harsh conditions.”
Jose says he can think of no better way to learn about Canada’s history than visiting these places first hand.
“In terms of why I think learning about these wars is important, learning about history is always important so that modern civilization learns from the mistakes of the past, ensuring the mistakes do not reoccur, and it is also about learning from positive events in the past and continuing their legacy,” Jose says.
Stella Begic, programs manager for the Vimy Foundation, says Jose and his colleagues will experience much more than a simple two-week trek through Europe.
“It’s not a trip, it’s not a vacation, it’s not a two-week camp…it’s a immersive learning experience,” Begic says.
In his application, Jose was required to prepare a ‘motivation letter’ outlining his reasons for wanting to participate in the program.
He also wrote several essays, a resume and was required to present reference letters.
Begic says Jose’s application was one of the few that stood out of the 300 in total overall.
“He’s a very bright kid who has amazing energy, and is articulate and confident,” Begic says. “He’s an incredible asset to the group.”
In addition to his interest in Canadian history, Jose is an avid basketball player.
“I really enjoy basketball, as you have to use your entire body to succeed and always must think about what you’re doing,” he says. “I am also 6’5” so I have a natural advantage.
Jose has also volunteered with the Sunrise Youth Group, an organization committed to enriching the lives of adults with developmental disabilities.