Boer War Page 53

The Belmont Project

When historian John Goldi and producer wife Joan Goldi set out to tell the television story of "The Great Anglo-Boer War: The Canadian Experience," from the Canadian historic sites in South Africa, in May 2000, they could find no signs or markers anywhere, no maps, brochures, books, or guides, that could point them to where these places were. Their frustrating experience at having to find Canada's historic sites in South Africa, all by themselves, using a trunk full of archival papers they had brought from Canada, made them determined that no other visitor intent on seeking Canadian heritage sites in South Africa would have to go through what they did. They initiated the "Belmont Project," focused on establishing the Fiset-O'Leary Centre, to reverse a Century of Neglect of Canada's South African historic sites.

Henri Wattier: "Reel de Fiset" 1938

You are listening to the "Fiset Reel" performed by Quebec fiddler Henri Wattier, who wrote it in honour of Major-General Sir Eugène Fiset, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, Hero of Paardeberg, "Father" of the modern Canadian Flag, and Lt. Governor of the Province of Quebec.

Another Canadian First

While researching and shooting his Boer War documentary in 2000, historian John Goldi
- using archival photos he had brought to South Africa - discovered that Belmont Station, right, which is still standing, was the headquarters of the Royal Canadian Regiment for several months in 1899-1902.

It is one of numerous unmarked Canadian historic sites we discovered had never been posted in any way by anyone in the past 100 years. To "End a Century of Neglect," we submitted a proposal to the Canadian Heritage Ministry requesting that these locations should receive official government recognition and plaques as important Canadian heritage sites. We also launched the "Belmont Project," an initiative to make Belmont Station (which is abandoned and boarded up) into a Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum and post more sites as well.

In November, 2002, Michel Audy of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada welcomed our massively documented original proposal, requesting to have the "people, places, & events" relating Canada's participation in the Anglo-Boer War, officially recognized in South Africa.

We had already handed in the proposal to Heritage Minister Sheila Copps, at her office, and discussed our initiative with her Chief Policy Advisor and other Heritage officials in Ottawa and Toronto. The proposal was also delivered and discussed with Parks Canada. We also discussed the initiative with Veteran's Affairs directors and the Director of the Canadian War Museum, among others. In July 2003 we delivered the same massive proposal to Paul Martin (who has since become Prime Minister of Canada.) And we began negotiations with the owners of Belmont Station in South Africa as well as various South African tourist officials in Ottawa and the RSA.

Above, the Belmont people and locations (some of many) we suggested that the Historic Sites & Monuments Board of Canada should recognize with official Government of Canada plaques. Left, Father O'Leary of the RCR, widely praised for saving the lives of many men at the Battle of Paardeberg and who worked at Belmont Station. Middle, one of numerous Canadian rock inscriptions which we discovered unmarked at Belmont, and whose existence we published for the first time. Sgt. Joe Perry from Galt, ON later died heroically at Boschbult Farm. Right, Surgeon-Capt. Eugene Fiset who also worked at Belmont and saved numerous lives while tending to the wounded at Paardeberg.

Below, the rare archival photo which historian John Goldi used to confirm the building on the right as the same one as the "RCR Guardroom" taken in 1899, below left. We are negotiating to turn it into a Canadian museum. (Details on pages 50-53.)

Historic Sites historian Dr. Danielle Hamblin assessed our original submission, and in the second week of July, 2003, the Secretariat of the Board received her report and recommendations on what should be done with our suggestions on Canada's South African Boer War sites. The Secretariat then drafted a set of proposals for the Minister of Canadian Heritage. The Minister's decision on which Boer War "people, places, and events" - if any - to be recognized with plaques in South Africa will be announced in December, 2003. With the change in Ministers during this time there is a delay. We are in the process of delivering the updated proposal to the new Minister of Heritage to make sure the Belmont Project does not fall between the cracks.
We have no doubt, and are proud that, as a result of our "Canadian Anglo-Boer War Project" initiative and the efforts of the Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum, the people, places, and events relating to Canada's Boer War participation will finally win official Canadian historic site status.

We are pleased that they will become the first Canadian locations on the African continent to receive plaques designating them as official Canadian historic sites. The first aim of the Belmont Project will have been realized. The Belmont Project will expand the marking and publicizing of the "people, places, and events" of the Canadian Anglo-Boer War and end a "Century of Neglect."

Will You Help!

We are seeking funding partners and supporters for "The Belmont Project," whose aim is
"To Preserve and Protect, Post and Publicize,"
Great Canadian Anglo-Boer War Historic Sites in South Africa.

A Hopeful Search turns to Dismay: In May 2000, we travelled to South Africa to begin following the "Trail of the Canadian Contingents," so we could use the historic locations to tell the television story of Canada's first ever military participation in an overseas war.

We faced a daunting task. We had set out to document the "Canadian Experience" during a war that covered an area the size of Western Europe.

And we also soon discovered that there were no site signs, plaques, guide books, or tourist maps, or brochures for any Canadian historic sites anywhere. The only markers of the Canadian presence were the tomb stones set up a hundred years before, and most of these had been removed from the battlefields and farms where they once were, and put into town cemeteries by the South African Government during the 1960s and 1970s.

There were no wayside markers or guides to Canadian sites at Paardeberg - Canada's most famous and bloody encounter of the war; Boschbult Farm - where Canada suffered it's second most heavy day of casualties of the entire war; to the Canadian site at Leliefontein - where three of Canada's four Boer War Victoria Crosses were won; at Coetzee's Drift - where Canadians won fame for daring and pluck under fire; at Sunnyside - where Canadians first went into battle on foreign soil; or to Badfontein.- where Lord Strathcona's Horse suffered its heaviest losses of the war; or Faber's Put ........or Wolve Spruit...... one could go on.

A Century of Neglect: Above is hallowed ground, the plot where the Canadians buried their dead after the Battle of Boschbult Farm, Canada's second most deadly encounter during the Anglo-Boer War. Historian John Goldi stands on this sacred spot, that took him hard slogging on the ground with archival maps and local help to find. It is a typical Canadian historic site in South Africa - not protected, preserved, posted, publicized in any way - a state of affairs that guarantees that an important Canadian heritage location will never be found by any tourist.
Here in Canada, the major battlefields are all wonderfully laid out by Parks Canada with plaques, maps, signs, guides, and museums. Everything is neatly laid out for a tourist trying to connect with his/her heritage. In South Africa - with extremely rare exceptions - there are no facilities or museums, and no staff at any of the Anglo-Boer War sites. There really aren't even any sites as we know them in North America! None.

Almost all the Boer War sites are in really remote wilderness locations, and hugely scattered - it must be remembered that it was mostly a guerrilla war, so a battle could break out anywhere.

You only know you're at a site when you find a tombstone or memorial set up by the Boers and British somewhere on a hill or field, a hundred years ago. Otherwise, you're totally on your own. In the wilderness really. Which history buffs find extremely attractive. Virtually every battlefield and site is exactly the way it looked during the war, one hundred years ago. Wonderfully unspoiled by historic markers, fast food outlets, information booths, or tourist displays or facilities. Often, only the locals can show you where many sites are.

So, for tourists in South Africa, hiring a battlefield guide is a must. Otherwise you will never find the sites you want without wasting days of searching or hundreds of miles of futile driving. But the tour guides are all primed for British or Australian sites and deeds, and could offer little help for the "Canadian Experience."

For a producer trying to make a documentary featuring Canadian sites, it promised to be a nightmare. We considered calling off the attempt and returning home.....

We opted instead for what turned out to be a pioneering trip, researching and shooting historic sites related to "The Great Anglo-Boer War: The Canadian Experience." It proved to be an exhaustive and drawn-out affair - 11,000 kms by car and many more on foot - and would cause us to have to extend our projected stay considerably, but would unearth some amazing Canadian historic treasures, whose existence was previously unknown and unpublicized.

Not Protected, Preserved, Posted or Publicized: A typically neglected site is Faber's Put (left) where the Canadian Artillery had its fiercest fight of the war as its horses milled around in panic inside this decaying kraal.

We plotted out the battle action around the kraal by using research from our two hundred books on the Anglo-Boer War, and a large binder of archival maps historian John Goldi had brought with him, from Canada.

To find other sites, contacts with local historians were also useful in some cases.

In the end, we were never able to find some locations, like Sunnyside, where the Canadians had their first action, though we had maps, and battle sketches, and we hiked all over, and we know, drove by it twice.

Still, we were able to feature an unprecedented number of historic location set-ups for a history documentary:
- 15 experts give 104 performances, at 83 different South African historic sites.

For details on how we followed
The Trail of the Canadian Contingents, and
uncovered Great Canadian Historic Sites in South Africa
- some for the very first time -
see Pages 43, 44

On our return, we were determined to make sure that no other South African visitor, intent on seeking out Canada's historic sites relating to the "Great Anglo-Boer War: The Canadian Experience," would have to spend the time, money, and effort that we had to, in order to find these locations.

We founded an initiative to "Preserve and Protect, Post, and Publicize," Canadian Historic Sites in South Africa, and named it "The Belmont Project," after the site in most urgent need of preservation.

The Belmont Project - To Preserve & Protect, Post & Publicize

Great Canadian Historic Sites in South Africa

related to "The Great Anglo-Boer War: The Canadian Experience"

Not Protected or Preserved, Posted or Publicized: Three Great Canadian Historic Sites whose existence historian John Goldi discovered for the first time, in June, 2000, remain unposted and unpublicized, and face a doubtful future. They include many Canadian rock inscriptions (below left), on hills within 3 kms of Belmont station (below ), and the buildings - still standing but boarded up - which served as the Canadian Guardroom (the station itself, below) and the Canadian hospital (frame building.) They were unearthed when historian John Goldi matched them up with rare archival photos he had brought from Canada. For details See Page 43 Discovering Great Canadian Historic Sites.

Canadian Hospital at Belmont

Canadians at Belmont - Feb. 1900

The Belmont Project is working to acquire these buildings and have them preserved as a Great Canadian heritage resource. We believe they would make an ideal bricks and mortar site for housing the "Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum," featuring the Fiset-O'Leary Centre. It would become the central point from which to start a campaign to commemorate Canada's historic sites in South Africa.

The Belmont Project - "The Fiset - O'Leary Centre"

Dedicated to the Memory of Two Great Canadian Humanitarians:

Dr. Eugène Fiset and Father O'Leary
The Surgeon and Chaplain of Canada's Royal Canadian Regiment
Who Served Tirelessly in Belmont Hospital, and Valiantly at Paardeberg

"In Hospital - First among the Sick;
In Battle - First among the Wounded;
At Home - First in the Hearts of their Countrymen"

Dr. Eugène Fiset

"They had long since learned to love him: in their camps at De Aar, at Orange River, at Belmont, he had not only been a physician to their bodies, but to their spirits as well. But it was not till Paardeberg that his true worth was proved. On that day he exposed himself a dozen times to a fierce fire while dressing wounds or helping bear soldiers from the field. That the death rate from fever and wounds had been so low among the Canadians is largely due to his unflagging zeal."

TG Marquis, "Canada's Sons on Kopje and Veldt", 1900

Father O'Leary

"Father O'Leary has time and time again in this war proved himself worthy of the Victoria Cross. Than he there was no braver soldier in South Africa; wherever a wounded man needed succor, he was there; where a dying lad needed to be shrived there he was to be found. Out of the firing line he would not keep, and his escapes were miraculous. His only thought was for the men he had come to Africa to sustain and comfort in the hour of danger and sickness; and the only commander he heeded was duty."

Did You Know? That, though he died without ever knowing it, Eugène Fiset, more than any other Canadian, could be called the Father of Canada's modern maple leaf flag. In 1918 Major-General Eugène Fiset was the first to recommend that Canada should adopt a national flag featuring a red maple leaf on a white field. It took decades of debate, and slight revisions, but his central suggestion won the day. Eugène Fiset was born in Rimouski, PQ, in 1874, married Stella Tascherau, and died in Riviere-du-Loup in 1951.
To End - A Century of Neglect

As well as preserving and protecting several Great Canadian Historic Sites, the Fiset-O'Leary Centre at Belmont would make an ideal visitor centre from which tourists from around the world could obtain informational brochures, maps, books etc., on "The Great Anglo-Boer War: The Canadian Experience."

Belmont is only one of many Great Canadian Historic Sites from the Anglo-Boer War that have suffered from a Century of Neglect and remain unprotected, unposted, and unpublicized to this very day.

Also Not Posted or Publicized: Historian John Goldi points out more Great Canadian historic sites that are not posted or publicized on plaques, signs, maps, or tourist brochures or guide books, and most of which would be impossible for ordinary tourists to find without hiring an expert guide. "The Belmont Project" is our initiative to reverse this Century of Neglect and have these Great Canadian historic sites marked with plaques.

Coetzee's Drift: Right, he points out the Boer positions on the north bank of the Vet River, where Lt. REW Turner won a DSO - the Empire's second highest medal for bravery - by swimming back and forth across the river to draw Boer fire so they would be forced to betray their positions during the Canadian attack across the drift below the bridge.

Paardeberg: It took archival maps from Canada for historian John Goldi to be able to find the blood soaked spot (below left) where 31 Canadians - and many scores of British Tommies - died on Bloody Sunday, at Paardeberg, on Britain's - and Canada's - bloodiest day of casualties during the entire war Feb. 18, 1900.

Below right, the ground over which the Canadians made their final charge on Feb. 27, ending the Battle of Paardeberg and winning Canada international acclaim.

Magersfontein: The massacre site (below left) where a Canadian doctor, Lt. Harry Manning Douglas DSO - a graduate of Queen's University, serving in the British Army - won a Victoria Cross for tending the wounded under heavy fire. Spion Kop: Another field of massacre, and the anonymous mass grave where Lt. J. Woodburne Osborne from Brantford - one of some 150 Canadian officers who fought in the British Army - fell and lies buried.
Leliefontein: It took two trips - and hundreds of additional kms - and extra days, to find the site (below right) where Eddie Holland's gallant defence, with his Colt machine gun, won him the Victoria Cross at Leliefontein. Badfontein: Only tombstones mark the site (below left) of Lord Strathcona's worst day of casualties of the entire war in a cemetery that is impossible to find without local expertise.
Faber's Put: From archival maps we had brought from Canada - not from on-site markers - we learned that the Canadian guns went into action while parked (below left), and fired over the stone kraal - where Canadian horses were milling about in panic - at the Boers attacking from the far side. Below right, the spot where Canadian officers, roused from sleep in the pre-dawn attack, stood in their underwear and bare feet, firing towards the Boers behind the kraal (left).
A Century of Neglect:

Hallowed Ground at Boschbult Farm

Left, holding the original bugle that was used to play the Last Post in this spot, historian John Goldi stands at the original grave site where 8 Canadians were buried the evening after Canada's second most costly battle of the war, Mar. 31, 1902. (Local farmers guided him to the location of this Canadian historic site which is not posted, or noted on tourist maps, brochures or guide books.)

Below, one who was there the evening of the funeral, Chester Rodgers from Jarvis, ON, wrote home of the melancholy scene. (From an original letter our research located.)

"We are taking out a subscription in our troop to get a tomb stone for one of our troop and a chum of mine who was killed Mar 31st. I made a cross of wood and cut his name on it after the fight. It was a pretty tough sight to see them lying in a big trench side by side just with a blanket tied around each of them and the trench barely 3 ft. deep."

The bodies were removed in the 1970s but the blood, and the soil that held the Canadian dead, and the memories, are still in this historic place.

And the rough field stones that once covered the graves are still preserved on this spot - which is today the front yard of a farm house - by the owner who is dedicated to keeping this small corner of an Anglo-Boer War site as a memorial to the eight young Canadians who never left the farm.

Postscript: Chester - like so many other Boer War veterans - would himself fall in the carnage of World War I

There are other Great Canadian historic sites that should be posted, protected, and publicized.

To End - A Century of Neglect !

To Preserve and Protect, Post and Publicize: Great Canadian Historic Sites in South Africa

"The Belmont Project," is a Canadian Anglo-Boer War Memorial initiative by the Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum, that is designed to put an end to a Century of Neglect of Canada's historic sites in South Africa. It's aim:

- to post and publicize - beyond the life of the television series, "The Great Anglo-Boer War: The Canadian Experience," and the web site "The Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum," - major neglected sites of Canadian historic significance on the ground in South Africa,

- to preserve and protect - through the establishment of the "Fiset-O'Leary Centre," at Belmont - several important Canadian historic sites before it is too late,

- to find a bricks and mortar home for the internationally-acclaimed Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum, which today exists only in cyberspace,

- to make sure that, in future, visitors from around the world - as well as Canadian tourists - can at last, find Canada's Anglo-Boer War heritage sites without having to spend horrendous amounts of time, money, and effort,

- to produce print material to help guide visitors to Canadian historic sites in South Africa,

- to set up a permanent and co-ordinating Canadian museum presence in South Africa,

- to complete the final Phase 4 of our Canadian Anglo-Boer War Project that we started in 1999.

c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000