History of United Nations Association in Canada – Hamilton Branch

Brian Reid and Anne M Pearson

The League of Nations was created in 1920 and a Hamilton group of supporters of the League (the “Hamilton League of Nations Society”) was formed as early as 1921. With the founding of the United Nations in 1945 following WWII, the United Nations Association in Canada was formed and the Hamilton League of Nations Society became the United Nations Association in Canada – Hamilton Branch.

While records of the League of Nations Society and the first two decades of the UNAC Hamilton Branch appear to be lost, by the mid 1960s it is clear that the latter had achieved a high profile in the community. One major accomplishment from the later 1960s was the founding of the Children’s International Learning Centre by Hamilton branch members Sheila and Douglas Davies, and later Iranian immigrant Aghdas Javid. The purpose of the CILC was to connect the children of Hamilton with the children of the world through information sharing, visual displays, and programming.

Oral testimony of those still alive who were participants in the UNA Hamilton Branch affirm that meetings of the branch continued to be held during the 1970s and 1980s, though, again, records have largely disappeared. However, records of minutes, flyers, and so forth are available from the mid 1990s onwards. Thus, this account will primarily focus on significant activities organized or supported by the branch from the mid-1990s to 2016.

In 1995, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations, the Hamilton branch funded a bursary at the Hamilton Community Foundation for a McMaster University graduate student “whose field of studies involves work on a project beneficial to the pursuit if UN goals in their work.” As well, Dr. Robert Mueller, Chancellor of the University of Peace in Costa Rica and former Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, visited Hamilton as part of UN50 celebrations and spoke at several community events.

Over the years the Hamilton Branch has invited a number of high profile speakers to address the public on global issues. For instance, in 1997 Geoffrey Pearson, former Canadian Ambassador to the USSR and the author of Seize the Day-Canadian Foreign Policy in the 1950’s, spoke at the branch annual meeting. In the same year, the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was held at Hamilton City Hall on December 10. A special feature was the presentation of the Pearson Peace Medal by the United Nations Association in Canada to Dr. Hanna Newcombe, co-founder of the Peace Research Institute –Dundas.

In 1999 the Branch joined the Global Movement for Active Ageing, an initiative of the World Health Organization, in the Global Embrace, an around-the-clock-around-the-world festivity. The Branch joined with Friends of the Redhill Valley to walk through the Redhill Valley in support of efforts to prevent a major road being built through the delicate eco-system of the valley. Dr. Ray Lowes, the 88 year old founder of the Bruce Trail, started us on the walk.
The launching of UNESCO Global Media Program, a video-ecology project linking youth in Cuba and the Six Nations Reserve, was held at Sir John A. Macdonald High School. Representatives from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, the City of Hamilton, the Board of Education, the Six Nations and UNAC Hamilton Branch were in attendance.

In January 2000, the branch co-sponsored a presentation by Mel Hurtig, author of the Pay the Rent of Feed the Kids, about the “Tragedy and Disgrace of Poverty in Canada.” That year the International Decade for the Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World was proclaimed by the United Nations for the decade 2001-2010. An organizational meeting was held in April 2000 launching the Culture of Peace Hamilton with its focus on the six articles of Manifesto 2000: Respect all life, Reject violence, Share with others, Listen to understand, Preserve the planet, and Rediscover solidarity. The group has been active in the community for seventeen years, the longest sustaining Culture of Peace group in Canada.

In March 2001, the branch co-sponsored a speech at Hamilton City Hall Council Chambers by Lt General Romeo Dallaire, the commander of the United Nations peacekeeping forces in Rwanda in 1993. He spoke on the “Prevention of War and Genocide from a Perspective of a Peacekeeper”. The Hamilton Mundialization committee presented General Dallaire with a World Citizen Medal. Later that year, on United Nations Day, October 24, representatives from the Hamilton Interfaith Committee, the Hamilton Mundialization Committee and UNAC Hamilton made a presentation to the Committee of the Whole of the New City of Hamilton on the World Citizen Project.
In January 2002, the Culture of Peace group hosted the first annual Martin Luther King’s Vision of a Beloved Community at Stewart Memorial Church. In September of that year the branch submitted a grant application for the World Citizen Project to the Federal Government’s Community Mobilization Program for Crime Prevention. We were awarded $120,000 for the project which was renamed the Citizen Projection Project. The CPP committee worked with a representative of the City of Hamilton to develop a training manual for the establishment of Safe Havens in the community in the wake of the upsurge of hate crimes after the events of 9/11 in the USA and “9/15” in Hamilton when the Hindu temple was torched. The committee also provided training in cross-cultural sensitivity to a number of groups, including staff at community centres, and police officers.
In June of 2003 Dr. Ralph Daley, from the United Nations University at McMaster University, spoke at the Environmentalists of the Year Awards Dinner. His topic was The International Year of Fresh Water. The UNAC – Hamilton Branch has been a long-standing supporter of this annual awards dinner event.
Retired General Romeo Dallaire was presented with the 25th Pearson Peace Medal by Governor General Adrienne Clarkson at a ceremony at Rideau hall on March 9, 2005. Our branch spearheaded the nomination which was supported by Dr. Joanna Santa Barbara, president of Physicians for Global Survival and Dr. Peter George, president of McMaster University. Later that year, as part of the celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations, our branch was selected to host a roundtable on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Mohawk College hosted the event on Sunday, October 23. About fifty participants discussed the eight development goals and a report of the findings was submitted to CIDA, the funding agency.
In 2006 the Culture of Peace group developed Peace Dollars to help fund their projects
A holocaust commemoration ceremony was held at the Hamilton Art Gallery on January 27, 2006, with approximately 250 people in attendance for this moving ceremony. The following year, in May 2007, a successful Model United Nations for High Schools was held at McMaster University.
On June 13-15, 2008 Hamilton hosted the UNAC AGM at Mohawk College. The conference opened with a dialogue on “Canada’s Role in the United Nations.” Further, the branch was a key sponsor of the Canadian Culture of Peace Program Symposium on October 2-5 at the Skydragon Centre. The keynote speaker was Dr, David Adams, the retired director of the International Year for the Culture of Peace.

In 2009, representatives from the Culture of Peace group met with city councilor Brian McHattie who suggested the group conduct a social geography of peace related, environmental and human rights groups in the community. This suggestion was taken up, and, over several years with the assistance of volunteers, including students from McMaster and the University of Waterloo, a great deal of information was collected that helped identify and clarify the extraordinary variety of peace-related activity in the “Steel City.” In April of 2009, the branch supported the “Department of Peace Initiative”, Hamilton Group’s annual meeting at McMaster University, where the keynote speaker was Linda McQuaig, author and columnist with the Toronto Star.

The following year, on February 2, 2010, the United Nations University – International Network on Water, Environment and Health Conference was held. Two youth participants from the Ripple Effect Project spoke of their work and presented four large panels they had created illustrating their findings on the linkage between local water ecosystems and health.

The branch hosted a celebration of a decade of building a culture of peace in Hamilton on United Nations Day 2011. Community representatives presented the six articles of Manifesto 2000. Rachel Derry, composer of the song “Peace is in Your Hands,” led the choir in singing the commemorative song.
On March 22, 2013 the Branch supported the Gandhi-King event where Daryl Davis, author, jazz musician and recipient of humanitarian awards, spoke about his work transforming hate within the Klu Klux Clan. Later that year, an International day of Peace ceremony was held at Hamilton City hall on September 21, 2013, and several hundred narcissus bulbs were planted at the Peace Garden. For World Food Day 2013 the branch partnered with Environment Hamilton to present a well-attended symposium on food security entitled “Local Food, Global Peace: Connecting Environment, Health and Security.” The keynote speaker was Hannah Reglich from the local organic co-operative network, Peace Meal Project in Toronto.

In April 2014 Westdale High School students hosted a Model United Nations for area schools at McMaster University. Subsequently, in 2015 and in 2016, the branch has supported the revival of the McMaster Model United Nations, a multi-day event that allows hundreds of students to gain knowledge about the workings of the UN, its member nations, and contemporary issues. Later the same year, our United Nations Day activity featured the film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” presented by Leo Johnson, a Liberian refugee who came to Hamilton as a teenager and went on to found the organization “Empowerment Squared.” The film documents the remarkable story of the courageous Liberian women who came together to end a bloody civil war and bring peace to their shattered country.

In both 2015 and 2016, UN Day on October 24th has also been marked with public events organized by the branch. Notably, in 2016, a panel of speakers were brought together to address the 2013 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a declaration which the Government of Canada signed earlier that year. Our keynote speaker was Chief Stacey LaForme of the New Credit of the Mississauga First Nations.

In all, despite the relatively small size in membership of the United Nations of Canada Hamilton Branch, the above description of its many and varied activities attest to a sustained belief in the importance of promoting not just the existence of the United Nations, the world’s only truly international governing body with its 93 member states, as imperfect as it is, but of the ideals the UN stands for, the hopes for a truly united world citizenship operating under international law. The UNA Canada enables its branches to bring the concept of globally engaged citizenship to the local community. The issues and problems, efforts, successes and failures of the larger world are mirrored in our own cities. At this level, we citizens can work together to learn, organize, and act in ways that promote the well being of our neighbours, extending outwards nationally and internationally.