In October 1956, Israel, Britain and France moved military forces into the Suez Canal zone to secure the canal.  Through the efforts of Canada’s External Affairs Minister, Lester B. Pearson, the U.N. General Assembly agreed to its first peacekeeping force to secure in the region (previous operations had been only observer forces). Under the command of a Canadian, MGen Eedson Louis Millard BURNS, (OC) DSO OBE MC, the UNEF, on 07 November 1956, was given a mandate to secure the removal of Israeli, British and French troops from the Canal Zone and the Gaza Strip and to maintain peace in the area.

            The first Canadian troops arrived in Egypt on 24 November 1956. and Egypt abruptly asked them to leave in May 1967, leading to the six-day war between Israel and Egypt. Thirty-two Canadian lost their lives serving with this force. 


A Canadian invention


            On the morning of November 4, 1956, at the United Nations General Assembly, a unique resolution was put forward calling for the setting up of an emergency force to secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities in the Suez Canal. It passed 57 to 0 with l9 abstentions.

            This was the conception of peacekeeping. Thought not yet fully developed, the idea was destined to earn the respect and admiration of all the peace-loving peoples of the world.

            If the United Nations can be said to have given birth to peacekeeping, then Canadian should take special pride in the knowledge that the resolution was the brainchild of the then Canadian Minister for External Affairs, Lester B. Pearson.

            War had broken our between Egypt and Israel in late October 1956. Britain and France sent forces to the region, feeling their interests were threatened by Egyptian president Nasser´s nationalization of the Suez Canal. The international community suddenly found itself ensnared in a complex and intractable situation.

            The deadlock threatened to expand and involve neighboring states, and the spectre of nuclear escalation had become a possibility.

            The war becoming intense, and Cairo and other parts of Egypt were under bombardment. As casualties mounted steadily, all sides desperately sought some face-saving means of ending the killing.

            In the early morning hours after an emergency meeting of the UN General Assembly, Mr. Pearson proposed his idea of a UN Peacekeeping Force. He envisioned a multi-national force to separate the combatants, lower tensions, and ultimately mediate negotiations in order to bring lasting peace to the area.

            “Peace,” he said in his address to the General Assembly of the UN, “is far more than ceasing to fire, although it certainly must include that essential factor…” After outlining his vision for a UN peacekeeping force, his added “ My own Government would be glad to recommend Canadian participation in such a United Nations force, a truly international peace and police force…”

            Within hours of the adoption of Pearson’s resolution, the nucleus of the first UN emergency force was formed with a Canadian, Major General Burns, as commander. For the first time ever, a military force was dispatched – not to impose a settlement – but rather to facilitate it.

            On November 6, then UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld was able to announce to the world that a cease-fire had been achieved. The following day, Egypt formally agreed to let the UN force enter, and on Thursday, November l5, 1956, at 9:35 A.M.local time, the first-ever UN peacekeeping troops arrived in Egypt.


What is Peacekeeping ?


            A peacekeeping force seems at first to be a contradiction of terms, history has taught us well that lasting peace is rarely won by force.

            Although paramilitary in nature, a peacekeeping force has no military objective. It must respect the sovereignty of states and can occupy no territory except by the invitation of a host nation.

            The creation of the first peacekeeping force occurred with such haste that there was little time to contemplate the scope of the challenges that awaited.

            Certainly a peace force would act as a buffer between combatants, and perform certain police duties such as observing cease-fires, upholding arms embargo agreements, and overseeing troop withdrawals. But with no blue prints to guide them, the specific techniques of keeping the peace were largely authored by the creativity and ingenuity of the individual troops and commanders.

            More than forty year later, the success of any peacekeeping action still relies to a great extent on the ingenuity, skills and diplomacy of every member of the force.  Good will and impartiality  -- tempered by a steadfast resolve --  are the qualities of these rare few who span chasms of mistrust that separate opposing factions. Although the risks are very real and the costs often high, Canadian who have served as peacekeepers under the UN flag its unique rewards.

            Peacekeepers are men and women from all walks of life from all the countries of the United Nations. Drawn from geographic regions outside a given conflict area, they typically possess generosity of spirit, faith in humanity, and willingness to go them and where needed. These traits are shared by all who wear the blue helmets of the UN.

            Perhaps the most notable trait among UN forces is courage. Many UN troops are unarmed amidst warring factions. Even when armed, however, UN peacekeepings are under strict orders to avoid using force. They may only use weapons in self defense – and only as a last resort. Though they may be treated with hostility, attacked and sometimes killed in the performance of their duties, they must still be prepared to turn the other cheek.

            It is difficult and often frustrating work. Calm, reserve, and determination are required attributes of these men and women. Peacekeepers know that theirs is a vital job, often a last hope for people engulfed in turmoil.


Canada and peacekeeping


            Canada’s commitment to peacekeeping is recognized throughout the world. Our reputation is unique in that only Canadians have served in every UN – sponsored peacekeeping initiative.

            Over 87.000 men and women have served in more than 30 different operations ranging from truce observance to the supervision of elections. More than 80 Canadians have given their lives while serving on UN peacekeeping missions.

            Canadian personnel have traveled to the far flung corners of the globe – from Afghanistan to Zaire – and have helped to resolve many complex disputes.

            Perhaps nothing illustrates the difficult nature of peacekeeping more than the complex situation in Cyprus. Trying to solve the taxing puzzle of an old conflict between Greek and Turkish Cypriots has tested the resilience and conciliatory abilities of peacekeeping since 1964 to the present day. Initially, UN forces policed the tinderbox situation on the island, quelling the bloodshed between the two communities. Although a fragile peace was restored, a coup took place in 1974. This was soon following by Turkish invasion that ultimately resulted in the division of the island. These events dramatically altered the role of the UN forces stationed there.

            Today peacekeeping troops patrol the buffer along the “ green line ” that divides the island, working to prevent skirmishes from breaking out. Although many critics feel that the apparent stalemate prevents any ultimate conclusion to the dispute, the fact remains that many innocent lives have been spared thanks to the presence of the United Nations. The UN Secretary-general is personally active now in trying to mediate a full political settlement in Cyprus.

            The difficulty in resolving international conflict is often multiplied when dealing with internal disputes such as the situations in Yemen in 1963, and more recently in the former Yugoslavia.

            To date, nearly twelve hundred Canadian have participated in peacekeeping duties in the former Yugoslavia, amid daily random sniper fire and shelling. The mandate has included providing emergency shelter, patrolling, mine clearance and maintenance of critical distribution routes for delivery of vital humanitarian aid shipments.

            Today the operation continues in spite of constant cease-fire violations and loss of life. Nonetheless, the hope remains that some solution may be found so that life can return to normal for the people of this war-ravaged  region.

            Since the earliest peacekeeping missions, the presence of the blue helmets has served as a reminder of the United Nations´commitment to preserving peace. With the full support and moral weight of the international community behind them, Canadian peacekeeping forces of the United Nation can and do make a difference.


A Monumental Achievement



            When the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 1988 to the UN Peacekeeping Forces, it was the eighth time this honour was bestowed on a UN initiative. As Canadians have always been at the forefront of UN peacekeeping, the Govemment of Canada acknowledged this newest honour by announcing plans for the creation of a peacekeeping monument.

            The site, a magnificent location in the heart of the nation’s capital on Confederation Boulevard, was donated by the National Capital Commission.

            From a nation-wide competition that invited designers, sculptors and landscape architects to submit proposals, a successful design was selected. On October 8, 1992, in a ceremony presided over by the Right Honorable Ramon John Hnatyshyn, Governor General of Canada. The Reconciliation was unveiled to the public. Fittingly, thousands of current and former Canadian peacekeepers were in attendance to participate in the dedication.

            The Monument itself is majestic and impressive. The main structure consists of two converging granite walls representing opposing forces. The space between them is a shattered rain of jagged and broken concrete; it symbolizes the despair and destruction caused by war.

            Tree bronze figures depicting UN peacekeepers stand at the 20 foot high apex where the two walls meet. A female figure representing a UN communicator, stands next to an officer in UN beret, acting in the role of observer. The third figure of a sentry with a rifle reminds us of the difficult and dangerous nature of the peacekeeper’s task.

            A planting of wildflowers amidst the debris and rubble between the two walls alludes to the cycle of renewal, and the hope and promise of the future. Years from now the are sure to offer a welcome note of optimism as their roots grow strong and take hold.

            A “sacred grove “ of twelve oak trees planted beyond the structure symbolizes hope and strength and recognizes the selfless contribution of peacekeepers from the 10 provinces and 2 territories. The trees also will change the landscape in time, as they grow ever taller and stronger.

            The fitting tribute was dedicated to remind future generations of the need to promote international peace and security, and to inspire pride in Canada’s great peacekeeping, heritage. Perhaps by sheer coincidence, this monument somehow also seems to speak to the very heart of what it means, and how it feels to be Canadian. Nowhere is it felt more strongly than in the hearts and minds of Canadians on UN peacekeeping missions in troubled sports around the globe.


A view to the future


            Peacekeeping has evolved into something very different from Pearson’s original concept of a standing international UN force. In fact, no standing force has ever been mounted. Each peacekeeping mission has been cobbled together from multinational forces and designed to specifically deal with problems as they have occurred, on an individual basis. Furthermore, peacekeeping is starting to involve people drawn from occupations outside traditional military forces. Canada has responded by supplying personnel from the RCMP to help with domestic security, and from Elections Canada to assist in the administration and monitoring of elections in several countries.

            This process has worked remarkably well to date. But how well will it serve us in the future?

            Member states are making new requests for UN peacekeeping involvement at an accelerated rate. In the past 4 years alone, Canada has committed peacekeepers to 10 new initiatives – compared to only 13 in all precious years. Some world leaders have suggested that failure to address the widening gap between the rich and poor of the world threaten world peace as never before. Current UN missions reflect a rapidly changing world, and challenge Canadians to respond to ever increasing demands.

            The willingness to take on more complex roles and tackle even the messiest of disputes has left the resources of the UN stretched very thin. The annual price od peacekeeping is projected to triple from just over $1 billion this year to over $3 billion next year. Naturally, funding additional peacekeeping campaigns will become a high-priority issue in the immediate future.

            Meanwhile, Canadian men and women continue to uphold the ideals of the United Nations with their lives when war erupts around the world. 


Cypress. April 10, 1964.


            Turkish Cypriots advancing on Greek positions at Kato Dhikmo opened fire on twelve unarmed Greek Cypriot farmers. The farmers scattered into the open fields surrounding the Ouisha cooperative farm as Warrant Officer Oueliet arrived with his reconnais­sance patrol. Immediately deploying his men. Ouellet ignored the danger to his own life and personally went to the rescue of the twelve farmers. Under constant fire he ushered them one by one to the safety of a farm building stationing two of his men to protect them. He then proceeded to the Turkish Cypriot positions and arranged for a temporary cease-fire enabling the evacuation of the twelve Greeks to a nearly village. Through his bravery and quick thinking, he saved 12 lives, and gained the respect and admiration of not only his men, but the Greek and Turkish forces as well. The valour displayed by Ouellet distinguished the Canadian peacekeepers and contributed to the eventual stabilization of a cease-fire in the area.


Qneitra, Syria 1978.


            “Our detachment of 4 personnel is situated in the once-thriving City of 37,000 called Qneitra. Only a few buildings remain standing, a grim reminder of the ‘73 Israeli-Syrian War. All around lies rubble and evidence of the carnage and waste that war brings. We operate vehicle control from Damascus to Tiberias. One must always know who is where, and going where. Three radios, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, who says it’s easy? Not us! Sun, wind and heat; we have it all. But our sanity remains.”

—Canadian Private Robert Howie


UN interim force in Lebanon, 1978.


            “Like most Canadian military personnel in similar circumstances, I wore the Canadian flag with more than just pride. It also offered considera­ble comfort as you realized its worth as a passport and peacemak­er. Although our vehicles were UN blue and white, and we had UN insignia and flags on our uniforms and vehicles, the largest flag we carried was on a pole attached to our vehicles; and it was always a Canadian flag”

- Capitain   Blaine Willliams


Congo, 1964


            While attempting to rescue two nuns and three priests from Jeunesse militants at  Kasendji, Lieutenant Colonel Mayer was knocked unconscious from behind. As he lay on the floor, a Jeunesse removed his revolver, thrusting it into Colonel Mayer’s stomach, and pulled the trigger. Fortunately, Mayer had not placed a live round in the chamber, or his life would have ended then and there. Meanwhile the three priests and two nuns were evacuated by helicopter. Alter arranging for the freedom of eight rema­ining sisters, Colonel Mayer himself was permitted lo leave.