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UCDSB Students Recovering Identities of Canadian First World War Soldiers for National Hill 70 Project
UCDSB Students Recovering Identities of Canadian First World War Soldiers for National Hill 70 Project
Posted on 04/06/2023

April 6, 2023 (Smiths Falls, ON) – Students across the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) are working to identify fallen Canadian soldiers from the First World War Battle of Hill 70 so their service can be honoured and they can truly be laid to rest.

Last spring, approximately 120 soldiers were discovered in Loos-en-Gohelle, France, while construction crews were digging a foundation for a new hospital. In the fall of 2022, the UCDSB, in partnership with Big Ideas Group Consulting, Hill 70 Memorial Project, and many others, began The Hill 70 Project: Lost. Found. Always Remembered.

The Canadian Armed Forces, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Veterans Affairs Canada, the Department of Canada Heritage, The Gregg Centre at the University of New Brunswick, the Spencerville Legion (Royal Canadian Legion Branch 604), the Toledo Legion (Royal Canadian Legion Branch #475), and Glengarry County Archives are also active partners with this project.  

Students from across the district are reviewing service records and attestation forms and pulling out key information about these fallen soldiers that will be entered into a national database of soldier service files from Library and Archives Canada. UCDSB students are among the first people to open these files since the First World War. From the Battle of Hill 70, roughly 1,300 Canadian soldiers remain missing.  

Students will also produce original biographies that will be shared with future projects in Eastern Ontario and France commemorating the service of Canadians during the First World War.  

As part of this overarching project, students from Smiths Falls District Collegiate Institute (SFDCI) and Athens District High School (ADHS) welcomed Department of National Defence forensic anthropologist Dr. Sarah Lockyer, on March 30, to SFDCI. She shared her work leading Canada’s Casualty Identification Program, taking students through a case study, and supporting a simulation for students to embark on the identification process.  

In her presentation, Dr. Lockyer explained that her role is to identify newly discovered skeletal remains of possible Canadian service members killed in action so that they can be buried with their name, by their unit, and in the presence of family.

Every identification is unique in how one arrives at a positive identification. Typically, it begins with collecting any personal identifiers such as an identification disc or signet ring. But there are times when remains are found without those identifiers. It then branches off into the military records to find biological data such as height, medical history, and many other details that are cross-referenced to have the highest likelihood of a match.

“Dr. Lockyer is the foremost Canadian expert on identifying soldiers who were lost during the First World War, says UCDSB Vice-Principal of Student Success and Real-World Learning Cameron Jones. “Students are currently doing the history and human components that the Casualty Identification Program does for soldiers. Having Dr. Lockyer come and speak with our students really helps make the connection between classroom work and the real world on this project.”

An identification can take as little as a couple of months to years or decades. If the soldier is determined not to be Canadian, Dr. Lockyer stops the process and contacts the country that the soldier belongs to and passes along the work to date.  

"I love science and the medical field, so it was very interesting for me to learn how much goes into figuring out an identification from a skeleton,” says Grade 12 SFDCI student Jorja Dalgleish. “There were so many things I wouldn't have thought about and it’s incredible how DNA and teeth are so much more important than you could think about and the information that can be gathered from them alone.”

“The Hill 70 project is really good because it brings back humanity to history. I've personally seen that if you want people and students to connect with the subject matter of history, create that human connection and that will create an environment where they may be able to see themselves in certain parts of this person's life,” says Dr. Lockyer. These soldiers died more than 100 years ago, and some of them are still missing. They deserve to be remembered. It’s nice to see a new group of students researching and bringing these soldiers back to the forefront. I hope the students come away from this with an increased sense of curiosity, of looking into things, researching things, and trying to find the human connection.”  

The real-world learning project has also seen students and teachers from ADHS gather at the Toledo Legion for a specialized professional development training session on Hill 70. During the session, several artifacts were brought in including an authentic First World War gas mask. At the session, teachers were able to share their progress and their plans for the project.  

The Hill 70 Project is an engaging way to get students connected to history and their communities. It helps preserve our Canadian heritage and will be a powerful addition to classroom learning,” says ADHS Grade 11 student Alex Simmons.  

Fourteen UCDSB schools, 19 classes, and over 400 students are working on this Hill 70 real-world learning project, across the district. Student projects are expected to be available to the public on the Hill 70 Memorial Project’s website upon completion. 

For media inquiries, please contact:   

April Scott-Clarke   Manager of Communications   Upper Canada District School Board   [email protected] 

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