Mapping the Glebe’s war dead — and turning it into music
An Ottawa military historian has mapped out all the people one local neighbourhood lost during the Second World War — and that map is being set to music this weekend at the Canadian Tulip Festival.
Dave O’Malley recently created a map of the soldiers, airmen and sailors from the Glebe who died during the the war.
He said he got the idea while working on a story about the Dambusters Raid — a legendary nighttime air mission in 1943 on German targets thought to be unassailable — and realizing that one of the pilots who died on the mission was practically a neighbour.
“He lived on Powell Avenue, and I thought, he is just two blocks away from me,” O’Malley told CBC Radio’s All In A Day.
O’Malley said he started researching and found the pilot wasn’t alone. In fact, he uncovered hundreds of Glebe High School graduates who’d been killed in the war.
‘This happened all over Canada’
“I was blown away by how many airmen, soldiers and sailors were lost,” he said. “The very first service person of the Allies to die in the Second World War went to Glebe High School.”
O’Malley used newspaper obituaries, church records and other documents to discover where all the soldiers had lived. At the time, obituaries would publish the names of the service member’s parents and their address.
In total, he tracked 472 men who lived in the Glebe and then died in the war.
O’Malley said it would have been the same story in any Canadian community at the time.
“There is nothing special about the Glebe. This happened all over Canada,” he said.
Turning it into music
Julian Armour, the executive director of this summer’s Music and Beyond festival, saw O’Malley’s map and his mind went to a different place.
He said seeing the dots laid out on the Glebe’s street grid made him think of music.
“You have lines on them and dots and that’s music,” he said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is really powerful … we have to get some composers.'”
Armour had composer Gilles Maurice Leclerc take a crack at it, and he came up with a piece called Glebe North: Leaving Home.
“There were interesting melodic colours [in the map],” Leclerc said, noting that the way the dots stacked up on the lines of the map naturally led to certain harmonies.
He said composing the music made him think of the sacrifice those soldiers made.
“The memories of the soldiers leaving home — it is such a powerful image,” Leclerc said.
The piece debuted this weekend at the Canadian Tulip Festival in Commissioner’s Park. An interactive version of the map will also be on display.