OTTAWA — The story of Pte. James Peter Robertson was well-known in Peter Harris’s family.
During the First World War, the Canadian soldier singlehandedly took out a German machine-gun nest at Passchendaele. He then led his unit to their objective before a shell killed him while he was trying to save a comrade.
Now, Harris is hoping his namesake great-uncle’s story will become more widely known by the rest of the country.
Britain awarded Robertson a Victoria Cross for his bravery and heroism in the muddy, blood-soaked fields of Belgium. It was one of three such decorations given to Canadians during the war that were recently obtained by the Canadian War Museum.
“If it’s just sitting in a safe-deposit box, it’s not doing anybody any good,” Harris said. “So it just seemed like it was a better place for it to be in the war museum, where hopefully other people can see it and appreciate it and learn this story.”
The other two medals were awarded to 2nd Lt. Edmund De Wind and Sgt. Thomas William Holmes, the youngest Canadian to ever win a Victoria Cross, the British Empire’s highest decoration for bravery.
With the acquisitions, the museum now has 36 of the 73 Victoria Crosses awarded to Canadians in the First World War. That includes seven of nine from Passchendaele, where 15,000 Canadians were killed or wounded during weeks of fighting.
“We can use these medals to tell the individual stories,” said Teresa Iacobelli, the museum’s First World War historian. “And because these are VCs, they are stories of exceptional gallantry and heroism under the most extraordinary circumstances.”
On Nov. 6, 1917, Robertson and his unit were part of an attack on the ridge bearing the Passchendaele name. As a cold drizzle fell, a German machine-gun ripped into the Canadians, who were unable to advance due to a wall of uncut barbed wire.
Spotting an opening in the wire to one side of the machine-gun emplacement, Robertson jumped to his feet and rushed for it before running at the Germans. In the ensuing struggle, he killed four before turning the gun on more of the enemy.
The 34-year-old from Medicine Hat, Alta., wasn’t done. Carrying the machine-gun, Robertson led his unit to its final objective, where he continued firing on the retreating Germans. A short time later, he was killed while trying to help a wounded comrade.
“He was the famous war hero of the family,” said Harris, whose mother has a replica of the Victoria Cross as well as a picture of herself at Robertson’s grave and a copy of the newspaper article announcing his exploits. “So it was a well-known story to us.”
The Victoria Cross was given to Robertson’s youngest sister, Harris’s grandmother, who passed it down to her own daughter when she died. Harris believes that was largely because his father was most interested in history.
The medal remained largely confined to a safe-deposit box until Harris’s father died near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We got it out of his safety-deposit box and we started thinking about it,” he said. “Mom remembered that she promised my grandmother that if it ever left the family, it would have to go to the Canadian War Museum.”
Born in Northern Ireland, De Wind was living and working in Canada as a banker with CIBC when the First World War broke out. After serving in a Canadian unit, he was commissioned as British officer.
While serving with the Royal Irish Rifles on March 21, 1918, he defended a position for seven hours before being killed.
Born in Montreal, Holmes was 19 years old when he earned his Victoria Cross at Passchendaele on Oct. 26, 1917, by singlehandedly knocking out three German machine-gun emplacements. He survived the war and died in Toronto in 1950.
Eric Fernberg, one of the war museum’s collections specialists, said the Robertson and De Wind medals were purchased from the two men’s families with donations and federal support. The Holmes medal was bought from an individual overseas.
While the exact prices have not been disclosed, the museum paid $420,000 at auction for a First World War Victoria Cross in 2017. Another awarded to a Canadian in the Second World War was sold to a British collector that same year for $550,000.
The Victoria Cross “has a long history, and it has resonance in terms of our collective military history,” Fernberg said. “So when opportunities present themselves or they arise (to acquire one), we do pursue them.”
The museum doesn’t have any immediate plans for displaying the three newly acquired medals, and Harris acknowledged some initial concern that his great-uncle’s decoration would end up in a storage drawer.
“But the logic still holds,” he added. “Even if they decide that they don’t have a place to display it right now, at least it’s at the war museum. Then there’s a chance that at some point, they will be getting more people (who) can be exposed to it.
“So it still seems like the right place for it to live.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 10, 2022.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
New job as head baker helps Ukrainian newcomer find familiarity in Winnipeg – CBC.ca
Life in Canada is off to a sweet start for a Ukrainian baker who has found a new home for her creations in Winnipeg.
Hanna Tokar, who has only been in Canada for just over a month, is now the head baker at the Winnipeg location of the Butter Tart Lady.
Michelle Wierda, the owner of the bakery, offered her a job after seeing a Facebook post Tokar made where she shared her struggles finding employment in Winnipeg.
“I saw her pictures and I thought, ‘I have to interview her,'” Wierda told host Marcy Markusa in a Tuesday interview with CBC’s Information Radio.
“I saw her attention to detail. Her work is just spectacular. It looked very delicious.”
Before coming to Canada, Tokar owned a bakery she operated by herself in her hometown of Kherson, a port city in southern Ukraine.
She was forced to permanently close its doors when she came to Canada, fleeing Kherson after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Tokar said she was shocked to get the offer to work at the Winnipeg bakery.
“I didn’t expect [to] … have an offer to work in a bakery, because it was actually my dream to have that job here. So it was amazing for me,” she told Information Radio.
Feb. 24 will mark the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine.
Since then, more than 800,000 Ukrainian nationals and their family members have applied for special temporary resident visas to come to Canada, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. The ministry said as of late December, more than 132,000 Ukrainian nationals had entered Canada since the start of 2022.
While Tokar’s parents are safe elsewhere in Europe, she says she prays for her grandparents who stayed in Kherson, which has experienced heavy damage due to shelling.
“I actually miss Ukraine. I actually miss my friends and my life — my previous life,” Tokar said.
“I really want them to really be proud of me, so that’s why when I have a job I called them and my grandparents really cried.”
As she settles into her new role as head baker at the Butter Tart Lady’s Winnipeg location, the return to what has been a lifelong passion provides Tokar with familiarity in a new place.
Although she is still new to the position, Tokar is already infusing the menu with traditional Ukrainian treats, something Wierda is excited about.
Of these treats is pampushky, a Ukrainian garlic bread that is traditionally served with borscht, Tokar explained.
On the two days she made pampushky, it sold out immediately, said Wierda.
As they look toward to the future, the two women are excited for their partnership.
“I love to be so creative and imaginative, and that’s what I’ve seen in Hanna, is that she’s very determined,” Wierda said. “She has a strong ambition to excellence and she’s always researching, looking for new ideas, new things.”
For Tokar, this experience provides hope for what life in Canada can be.
“You know, I never expect that, like, some foreign people can support me like that,” she said.
“And I really like appreciate the kindness of people.”
Information Radio – MB6:15Baker from Ukraine is frosting cupcakes while connecting with a new community in Winnipeg
Canadian team discovers power-draining flaw in most laptop and phone batteries – CBC.ca
The phone, tablet or laptop you’re reading this on is likely having its battery slowly drained because of a surprising and widespread manufacturing flaw, according to researchers in Halifax.
“This is something that is totally unexpected and something that probably no one thought of,” said Michael Metzger, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University.
The problem? Tiny pieces of tape that hold the battery components together are made from the wrong type of plastic.
Batteries release power because of a chemical reaction. Inside each battery cell, there are two types of metal. One acts as a positive electrode and one as a negative electrode.
These electrodes are held in an electrolyte fluid or paste that is often a form of lithium.
When you connect cables to each end of the battery, electrons flow through the cables — providing power to light bulbs, laptops, or whatever else is on the circuit — and return to the battery.
Trouble starts if those electrons don’t follow the cables.
When electrons move from one charged side of the battery to the other through the electrolyte fluid, it’s called self-discharge. The battery is being depleted internally without sending out electrical current.
This is the reason why devices that are fully charged can slowly lose their charge while they’re turned off.
“These days, batteries are very good,” Metzger said. “But, like with any product, you want it perfected. And you want to eliminate even small rates of self-discharge.”
In the search for the perfect battery, researchers have to watch how each one performs over its full lifespan.
“We do a lot of our tests at elevated temperatures these days. We want to be able to do testing in reasonable time frames,” Metzger said. Heat makes a battery degrade more quickly, he explained.
At Dalhousie University’s battery lab, dozens of experimental battery cells are being charged and discharged again and again, in environments as hot as 85 C.
For comparison, eggs fry at around 70 C.
If researchers can learn why a battery eventually fails, they can tweak the positive electrode, negative electrode, or electrolyte fluid.
During one of these tests, the clear electrolyte fluid turned bright red. The team was puzzled.
It isn’t supposed to do that, according to Metzger. “A battery’s a closed system,” he said.
Something new had been created inside the battery.
They did a chemical analysis of the red substance and found it was dimethyl terephthalate (DMT). It’s a substance that shuttles electrons within the battery, rather than having them flow outside through cables and generate electricity.
Shuttling electrons internally depletes the battery’s charge, even if it isn’t connected to a circuit or electrical device.
But if a battery is sealed by the manufacturer, where did the DMT come from?
Through the chemical analysis, the team realized that DMT has a similar structure to another molecule: polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
PET is a type of plastic used in household items like water bottles, food containers and synthetic carpets. But what was plastic doing inside the battery?
Tale of the tape
Piece by piece, the team analyzed the battery components. They realized that the thin strips of metal and insulation coiled tightly inside the casing were held together with tape.
Those small segments of tape were made of PET — the type of plastic that had been causing the electrolyte fluid to turn red, and self-discharge the battery.
“A lot of companies use PET tape,” said Metzger. “That’s why it was a quite important discovery, this realization that this tape is actually not inert.”
Tech industry takes notice
Metzger and the team began sharing their discovery publicly in November 2022, in publications and at seminars.
Some of the world’s largest computer-hardware companies and electric-vehicle manufacturers were very interested.
“A lot of the companies made clear that this is very relevant to them,” Metzger said. “They want to make changes to these components in their battery cells because, of course, they want to avoid self-discharge.”
The team even proposed a solution to the problem: use a slightly more expensive, but also more stable, plastic compound.
One option is polypropylene, which is typically used to make more durable plastic items like outdoor furniture or reusable water bottles.
“We realized that it [polypropylene] doesn’t easily decompose like PET, and doesn’t form these unwanted molecules,” Metzger said. “So currently, we have very encouraging results that the self-discharges are truly eliminated by moving away from this PET tape.”
U.S. escalates trade concerns over Canada's online news and streaming bills – The Globe and Mail
Washington has escalated its concerns about the trade implications of Ottawa’s online streaming and online news bills, prompting a legal expert to predict the issue will be raised during President Joe Biden’s planned visit to Canada in March.
Deputy United States trade representative Jayme White stressed “ongoing concerns” about the two Canadian bills at a meeting last week with Rob Stewart, Canada’s deputy minister for international trade.
Senior Democrat and Republican senators on the influential U.S. Senate finance committee also weighed in last week, writing a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai about Canada’s “troubling policies,” which they said target U.S technology companies.
Both bills are making their way through Canada’s Parliament. Bill C-11 reached a third-reading debate in the Senate on Tuesday.
The U.S. is concerned that the two bills unfairly single out American firms, including Google, Facebook and Netflix.
Bill C-11 would update Canada’s broadcast laws, giving the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) the power to regulate streaming platforms such as Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime and Spotify.
The streaming platforms would have to promote Canadian content – including films, TV shows, music and music videos – and fund its creation.
Bill C-18 would force Google and Facebook to strike deals with news organizations, including broadcasters, to compensate them for using their work. The CRTC would have a role in overseeing the process.
Two sources told The Globe and Mail that the CRTC’s lack of experience regulating print media and digital platforms was raised by Ms. Tai and her team in previous talks with Canada’s Trade Minister, Mary Ng. The Globe is not naming the sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
A U.S. readout of Mr. White’s meeting with Mr. Stewart said the American official had “expressed the United States’ ongoing concerns with … pending legislation in the Canadian Parliament that could impact digital streaming services and online news sharing and discriminate against U.S. businesses.”
Shanti Cosentino, a spokeswoman for Ms. Ng, said the Minister “has reiterated to Ambassador Tai that both Bill C-11 and C-18 are in line with our trade obligations and do not discriminate against U.S. businesses.”
Last week, Democrat Ron Wyden, chairman of the U.S. Senate committee on finance, and Republican Michael Crapo, a senior member of the committee, raised concerns in a letter to Ms. Tai that the bills could breach the terms of the United-States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA).
Michael Geist, the University of Ottawa’s Canada Research Chair in internet law, said the intervention from both parties means it is now likely the issue will be on the agenda when Mr. Biden visits Canada.
“To see this raised in a bipartisan manner by two U.S. Senators from the powerful finance committee suggests that the issue is gaining traction in Congress,” he said.
The senators urged Ms. Tai to take enforcement action if Canada fails to meet its trade obligations.
Their letter said the online streaming bill would “mandate preferential treatment for Canadian content and deprive U.S. creatives of the North American market, access they were promised under USMCA.”
It added that Bill C-18 “targets U.S. companies for the benefit of Canadian news producers and raises national treatment concerns under USMCA.”
But Toronto-based trade lawyer and former diplomat Lawrence Herman, founder of Herman and Associates, said the U.S. politicians’ intervention is “a reflection of a well-orchestrated lobbying effort by the major digital platforms.”
He said there is no evidence that either bill discriminates against American companies.
“Canada is well armed to defend any trade complaint,” he said.
On Thursday, as Canada’s Senate debated Bill C-11 at third reading, Senator Dennis Dawson, sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said the legislation has been thoroughly scrutinized and should now be passed.
The Senate was due to begin debating C-18 this week. But that could now be delayed because of an error in the printed text of the bill sent over from the Commons, the Speaker of the Senate said.
The incorrect text included a sub-amendment that had not actually passed in a Commons committee. It will now have to be pulped and reprinted.
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