Dust in the Engines over 50 years of canadian peacekeeping

The orders had been given. Once the Egyptian government withdrew consent from the Canadian forces to serve on the sands of the Sinai, the remaining troops had 48 hours to erase any trace of their presence at El Arish Airport.

The cargo plane hummed as the final few filed into its belly and settled in their seats, relishing in the speed with which they had cleared out the camp. The DHC-4 Caribou was airborne within minutes. The men looked out over the dunes and noticed that in their haste, they had forgotten something. Tethered to a pole above the barren compound, a flag tossed gently in the desert breeze; the red maple leaf amidst an ocean of gold.

Prior to 1956, Canadian engagement in United Nations peacekeeping had been limited to observer missions. However, after the Suez Crisis erupted, the UN formed the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF I), and volunteers from Canada’s military embarked upon the nation’s first peacekeeping mission.

Trading in snow for sand, they experienced everything from the dust of the desert clogging the engines of their white armoured jeeps, to finding the body of a Palestinian floating in their water tower.

The conflict lasted a decade, with Canada offering 1,007 men, one sixth of the total participating soldiers, and cementing itself as a nation synonymous with peacekeeping.

“We were the first to prove that peacekeeping could work,” says Gord Jenkins, a retired major who served in the 1960s.

Retired Maj. Gord Jenkins in front of Mount Sinai in 1965 (left) and at his home in 2017 (right).

To date, Canada has performed in over 30 peacekeeping missions, offering upwards of 120,000 troops to various missions around the world.

Over the last 50 years, developments have been made to better equip those who volunteer for UN missions by educating them on regional customs, languages, and socio-religious expectations, a vast improvement compared to the compass training that the UNEF I crew received. The uniform has also evolved. Those in UNEF I wore a thick, dark brown dress identical to the British, while modern day peacekeepers have tan khaki options for warmer climates. The only element of the uniform that hasn’t changed is the blue beret.

In recent years, the dark shadow of Rwanda and the expense of Afghanistan have affected Canada’s presence on the UN stage, with a mere 100 peacekeepers abroad and a war-weary nation.

However, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced Canada’s recommitment to peacekeeping last summer with a promise of up to 600 hundred troops for a peace operation in Africa. Despite the approval of many, there are some that feel such a mission will not be successful.

“Peacekeeping of the Pearson variety is gone,” says Jenkins. One of the countries believed to be the target for Canada’s next peacekeeping mission is Mali, which Jenkins says would be a grave mistake.

One of the principles of UN peacekeeping is that with the exception of self-defence, peacekeepers cannot use force.

Jenkins, who visits the War Museum in Ottawa every Friday, believes that given the violent climate in the northern part of the country, “if we go into Mali, we’ll have to use force… surely we’ve learned we can’t go in and establish democracy.”

With the very nature of peacekeeping being compromised by the complexities of modern-day warfare, it begs the question as to whether true peacekeeping is still possible.

A retired sergeant, who will not be named as he is prohibited from speaking on behalf of the Canadian military, served as a peacekeeper in Lebanon, Cyprus, Egypt, and Croatia. He says that despite the challenges faced by this new era of peacekeeping “if we can make the slightest difference in people’s lives… then it’s worth it.”

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.