Recently, The House of Commons approved the installation of a memorial to Lt. Col. Samuel Sharpe of the 116th Battalion, who died in 1918. MP Erin O’Toole made the motion below. which received a unanimous vote in the house on May 24,2018 – the day before the 100th anniversary of Sharpe’s death.
Why few Canadians are familiar with Samuel Sharpe’s Great War legacy
The foyer of the House of Commons contains a testament to the Great War and what it meant to the members of Parliament who steered our young nation through it: a stunning statue of George Baker, the honourable member for Brome who died in the Battle of Ypres, in 1916.
Sadly, that is where our collective memory stops, as Baker’s colleague in the Union Government, Samuel Sharpe, who also saw battle and who also died as a result of it, is all but ignored.
This stark omission tells us much about our struggle to come to terms with mental injuries from military service that are still taking their toll on the Canadian Forces.
I first heard of Lieutenant-Colonel Sharpe many years ago, but it wasn’t until I was elected to Parliament for the modern successor to his riding, Ontario North, that I learned the full story.
First elected in 1908, after a career as a lawyer and solicitor for the Town of Uxbridge (just east of Toronto), Sharpe had joined the 34th Militia Regiment. When war broke out, he used his influence as an MP to lobby Sir Sam Hughes, the controversial Minister of the Militia, to raise a new battalion from Ontario County, which is now largely part of Durham Region. Hughes agreed and the 116th Battalion was stood up in November, 1915, with Sharpe having recruited much of it personally.
He went on to serve with distinction at Vimy Ridge, in April, 1917, while also maintaining his seat in Parliament. From Vimy, the 116th went on to more combat at Avion and later Passchendaele.
Just months after those horrific battles, Sharpe was re-elected in absentia, the only MP returned to the House of Commons from the battlefields of Europe.
The 116th fought admirably, with Sharpe being awarded the Distinguished Service Order for gallantry, but not without a severe cost. In particular, the death of Lieutenant Thomas Walton, an Uxbridge native and close friend, deeply affected the MP, who began to give way to melancholy.
“It is awful to contemplate the misery and suffering in this old world,” he wrote to Walton’s widow, “and were I to allow myself to ponder over what I have seen and what I have suffered thro the loss of the bravest and best in the world, I would soon become absolutely incapable of ‘carrying on.'”
In early 1918, Sharpe could no longer “carry on.” He was hospitalized overseas and by May, his war was over – he returned to Canada and was treated for nervous shock at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal.
Within days, he succumbed to his grief, leaping from a hospital window on May 25. Personal accounts from the time suggest that he could not bear the thought of returning to Uxbridge to face the families of the fallen.
That so few Canadians know of Sam Sharpe is, I believe, attributable to his illness and sad demise. Today, Sharpe might have received treatment for his suffering.
Last spring, Senator Romeo Dallaire and I co-hosted the first Sam Sharpe Memorial Breakfast, which brought together parliamentarians, media, the military, veterans and mental-health advocates to hear two veterans discuss their own struggles.
Such a legacy is more meaningful than any statue or plaque. But we should also pledge to ensure that Sharpe’s service and sacrifice are properly recognized within the hallowed halls of Parliament, with the hope that his battles, abroad and within, will be another way to commemorate the Great War and to ensure we never stop learning from it.
Erin O’Toole, the member of Parliament for Durham, wrote this piece with research assistance from Matthew Barrett, a PhD candidate at Queen’s University.
Erin O’Toole Motion
Mr. Speaker, I rise to bring a unanimous consent motion, seconded by the member for Pickering—Uxbridge, in relation to the commemoration of a member of Parliament and First World War soldier name Sam Sharpe.
The motion is about remembrance and reducing the stigma associated with mental injuries from service. It is the result of the personal support of a number of members of the House. I would like to recognize some of these MPs to show Canadians that remembrance of this nature is beyond partisanship.
To start, I would like to recognize the Minister of Veterans Affairs for his support of the motion, and of course the seconder of the motion, the member for Pickering—Uxbridge, who represents the modern riding once represented by Sam Sharpe.
I would also like to thank and recognize the tremendous efforts of the following members: the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, the member forParkdale—High Park, the member for Don Valley West, the member for Kingston and the Islands, the member for Winnipeg Centre, the member for Burlington, the member for Regina—Qu’Appelle, the member for Barrie—Innisfil, the member for Brantford—Brant, the member for Yorkton—Melville, the member for Cariboo—Prince George, the member for Souris—Moose Mountain, the member for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, the member for Victoria, the member for Beloeil—Chambly, and the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.
Without the support of numerous parliamentarians, including former senator Roméo Dallaire, and without the support of numerous veterans and passionate Canadians across the country, we would not be able to commemorate the First World War victories we are so proud of and the heartbreaking sacrifices of those who served our country.
Following the provision of detailed information on the history of Sam Sharpe to all members of the chamber and as a result of discussions among the parties, if you seek it, Mr. Speaker, I believe you will find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:
That, the House:
(a) Recognize that (i) Samuel Simpson Sharpe was elected to the House of Commons in 1908, 1911, and 1917, (ii) that member of Parliament Sharpe raised the 116th Battalion from Ontario County and fought with his battalion at Vimy Ridge, Avion, Hill 70 and Passchendaele, (iii) that Sharpe was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for gallant leadership, (iv) that he was the only sitting Member of Parliament re-elected in the 1917 election while fighting on active service at the front, (v) that Sam Sharpe tragically died by suicide at the Royal Victoria Hospital on May 25, 1918, (vi) that for unknown reasons after the re-opening of Centre Block in 1920 there was no plaque or marker ordered to commemorate the service and memory of Sam Sharpe; and
(b) Therefore, on this day—one day before the 100th anniversary of the tragic death of MP Sam Sharpe—this House calls for the commemorative bronze plaque of Sam Sharpe, sculpted by Canadian artist Tyler Briley, to be installed in the Centre Block ahead of the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice that ended the First World War; and
(c) That the Minister of Veterans Affairs being given the discretion by this motion to allow the Sam Sharpe plaque to be loaned to the Royal Ottawa Operational Stress Injury Clinic, or another suitable mental health treatment facility, for the duration of the closure of Centre Block with the intention that the plaque be returned to its place of installation in Centre Block once it reopens.