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Library and Archives Canada395 Wellingtion street

By the Ghost Light

with R.H. Thomson
Hosted by Andrew Cohen

By the Ghost Light

with R.H. Thomson
Hosted by Andrew Cohen
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellingtion street

Presented in partnership with Library and Archives Canada and the Ottawa Public Library.


Join us for a conversation between our host Andrew Cohen, award-winning journalist, author and professor, and R.H. Thomson, one of Canada’s most beloved performing artists in celebration of By the Ghost Light: Wars, Memory, and Families, an audacious work of non-fiction that explores the stories that shape us and the reach that the past can have across generations.

Growing up north of Toronto, R.H. Thomson’s imagination was captured by romantic notions of war. He spent his days playing with toy soldiers on the carpet of his grandmother’s house, recreating the Battle of Britain with model planes in his bedroom, or sitting at the local theatre watching World War II B movies—ones that offered a very clear perspective on who were the heroes and who the villains; which side were the victors and which the vanquished.

Yet Thomson’s childhood was also shaped by the spirits of real-life warriors in his family, their fates a brutal and more complicated reminder of the true human cost of war. Eight of Robert’s great uncles—George, Joe, Jack, Harold, Arthur, Warren, Wildy, and Fred—fought in the First World War, while his great Aunt Margaret served as a wartime surgical nurse in Europe. Five of the great uncles—George, Joe, Fred, Wildy, and Warren—were killed in battle while two others—Jack and Harold—would return home greatly diminished, spending the rest of their lives in and out of sanitariums, their lungs scarred by disease and poison gas. Throughout their lives, the great uncles, as well as great aunts and cousins, were faithful letter writers, their correspondence offering profound insights into their experiences on the front lines to their loved ones back home, a somber record of the sacrifice the family paid.

In By the Ghost Light, R.H. Thomson offers an extraordinary look at his family’s history while providing a powerful examination of how we understand war and its aftermath. Using his family letters as a starting point, Thomson roams through a century of folly, touching on areas of military history, art, literature, and science, to express the tragic human cost of war behind the order and calm of ceremonial parades, memorials, and monuments. In an urgent call for new ways to acknowledge the dead, R.H. has created “The World Remembers,” an ambitious international project to individually name each of the millions killed in the First World War.


Books are available from our friends at Perfect Books.


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