The concept of Peacekeeping has been held by Canadians to be a source of pride. And it was Lester Pearson, while Minister of Foreign Affairs who brought the idea forward to solve the sticky problem of Britain and France trying to oppose the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Egypt. The Suez Crisis put in motion a concept that still is held as a way to avoid more catastrophic conflicts by putting a third party between the opposing forces.
In the time of Pearson, it was Canada, that acted as the honest broker while the French, British, Egyptians and Israelis – all under pressure from the United States – solved there ‘differences’. The concept was that the parties would not seek further trouble by taking on the peacekeepers. And for the peacekeepers part, at least at Suez, they were of sufficient military strength provide a presence that could not be easily ignored.
That isn’t to say that various sides haven’t tested that principle. The idea that peacekeeping is somehow a safe and benevolent practice has also been tested and found wanting.
In 1974 a Canadian transport airplane carrying nine passengers (5) and crew(4). The de Haviland Buffalo #461 (s/n 115461) had been assigned to carry Canadian peacekeepers to Damascus, Syria. This was part of the UN peacekeeping mission that followed the Yom Kippur War in October 1973.
On August 9 after being cleared to land in Syria it was hit by 3 Syrian Surface to Air Missles which destroyed the aircraft killing all aboard. This remains the largest single loss of Canadian peacekeepers.
A fragment of the wreckage remains in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa:
The names of all the peacekeepers killed are recorded in the Book of Remembrance which is on display in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. On the day I visited it was open to the page from 1974 showing the crew of Buffalo 461.
The complete Books of Rememberance can be viewed online
In 2008, August 9th was designated National Peacekeepers’ Day, now you know why.