The Water Diviner and the Search for Canadian Great War Stories

16th Canadian Machine Gun Company. The water and mud of Passchendaele.

16th Canadian Machine Gun Company. The water and mud of Passchendaele.

Finding Water – Finding Story

When I was young, some forty years ago, I came to British Columbia and lived near a place that my maternal family had called home since the 1860s. Having lived in many places, across Canada and overseas, this new place of generational connection was foreign to me. Yet I wanted familiarity – a sense of connection and slowly I found my place and began to listen to the voices that echoed the knowledge of my ancestors. Though the stories were largely family centric and especially spoke of their logging and hunting history, they spoke on occasion of neighbours, friends and characters – a rich culture of storytelling – and so I listened…

Once upon a time…

I recall some chatter about divining wells the art of walking the lay of the land, in search or perhaps a feeling for finding that vital liquid known to us as water. I recall at least one instance of watching a diviner set upon their work attempting to make me a believer. However, belief was not the issue, curiosity held me steadfast and being some 10 years of age this appeared to be magic. We may not have found water that day, and fortunately I did not have to dig a really big hole in the ground, but the story and memories remain with me – the day I spent a couple of hours climbing about the hillside of my former home following the water magician.

Many years later – 2014…Russell Crowe has found the story of a diviner whose young family is part of the Australian story of Gallipoli. Once again I am turned to the fine film productions that bring Australia’s Great War story to life, Gallipoli (1981), ANZACS (1985), The Light Horsemen (1987), Beneath Hill 60 (2010) and The Water Diviner (2014).

The Water Diviner (Fear of God Films).

Russell Crowe, The Water Diviner (Fear of God Films) 2014.

As in all my wanderings in search of this history for my home, Canada, and a way to bring it forward for eager people to see, I cannot help but ask myself where is this history in our deliveries? Apart from the film Passchendaele (2008) there has been a dearth in discovering our own stories. Many Canadian families speak of their connection to the days of the Great War – proud of their association, recalling their loved ones, or in many instances speaking of relatives they never met, whose service continues to be passed to the next generation as deep and rooted connection to family.

Saving Private Ryan (1998). James Francis Ryan with family at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

Saving Private Ryan (1998). James Francis Ryan with family at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Though, from the U.S.A., and not Great War related the image clearly shows the generational family in support of their loved one.

Today, however, where do we find our own national or provincial history of these days that jaggedly shaped the 20th Century without care for who it affected? This connection to Canada’s Great War is all around us – and we should be and can be inspired by Australia’s willingness to connect to this difficult past. In that regard The Water Diviner is a wake-up call to remind us all that the first step towards recognizing these times is for all of us to become empathetic to this shared past – this legacy that is ours to share both the good and the bad. History cannot be changed nor the pitfalls of war, but Canada’s stories are still to be found – the challenge is to find those who will speak and provide the voice of leadership and for us to listen – to remember – to preserve – a record of these times through exhibits, histories, collections and film.

It is like the water diviner on my hilltop an opportunity to connect to family, friends and characters and yes it can be magic – I have that feeling!

About The Author

Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was captivated by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Over time Paul became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography, narration and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was inspired when he learned Weir visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. "Gallipoli", the film, led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii, Gallipoli, North Macedonia and Salonika. When Paul first watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests was a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, Paul believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.


Leave a Reply