BURLINGTON, ON – August 5, 2020 – Two graduating students from Oakville’s Garth Webb Secondary School (GWSS) have been awarded scholarships from the Juno Beach Centre (JBC), the World War II museum and educational centre in Normandy, France, founded by the school’s namesake.
Laney Onate was the recipient of the Juno Beach Centre Association Award for Athletics, awarded to a graduating student who has demonstrated a high level of dedication and commitment to the school’s co-curricular athletic program.
Rebecca Sakaki was the recipient of the Juno Beach Centre Association Award for Academics, awarded to a graduating student who has demonstrated a high level of achievement in their academic studies. Rebecca also received the Governor General’s Academic Medal for earning the highest overall grade average.
The Juno Beach Centre was conceived of and founded by the late Garth Webb, a D-Day veteran who rallied fellow veterans and volunteers to raise over $12 million to build the centre on the very beach where he and his comrades landed on June 6, 1944. The Halton District School Board paid homage to Mr. Webb’s many contributions to education and his Halton community over his lifetime by selecting him as the school’s namesake when it opened in September, 2012. Staff and students continue to honour Mr. Webb’s legacy through their practices of remembrance, citizenship and resilience. The JBC inaugurated the annual scholarships in 2015 to support exceptional graduating GWSS students in pursuing the next steps in their academic journeys.
“The commitment to youth remembrance is an overriding mandate at GWSS,” said Pam Calvert, a retired GWSS teacher of Canada and World Studies, who also sits on the Board of Directors for the Juno Beach Centre Association. “Garth Webb always said that of all the recognition he received, he was most proud of a school being named in his honour. One of his core purposes for the JBC was to educate future generations about the major role Canada played during the Second World War and in preserving the freedoms we are privileged to enjoy today. We are proud to continue Garth’s legacy and his commitment to education by providing scholarships to these two deserving students.”
Remembrance permeates the GWSS culture, from the huge mural of Garth Webb that greets students each day to the poppies displayed on athletic uniforms, to the history curriculum, which features a major assignment for grade 10 students called Lest We Forget, where students each perform extensive research on a Canadian who served in the Second World War and create a memorial to “their” soldier as the project’s capstone act of remembrance. Many GWSS staff and students have travelled to the JBC in Normandy, including Ms. Onate.
My time at Garth Webb Secondary School was very special and something I will always hold dearly, however, I didn’t fully understand the importance of the crest and poppy stitched on every jersey I wore until I was granted the opportunity in my grade 11 year to travel with my school to visit historical landmarks and locations of World War II in person,” said Ms. Onate, a long-time athlete who played and held leadership roles on GWSS’ basketball, volleyball and varsity soccer teams. “In addition to learning history in a classroom setting, I was able to visit the Juno Beach Centre on the beaches where the sacrifice, perseverance, and Canadian triumph we honour every June 6th occurred all those years ago. The first day of school after that trip was very reflective and changed how I felt for the better about being a student at GWSS and about being an athlete representing and honouring his memory at every practice and game.”
Ms. Sakaki, a top-level academic performer who particularly enjoys physics, biology, and chemistry, shares a similar sentiment about the importance of the themes of remembrance and commemoration during her high school experience. “Through GWSS’ exceptional efforts to educate students on the Second World War and the Canadians who fought for victory, I have a unique appreciation for the Juno Beach Centre and their work to preserve Canadian legacy,” she said. “I am proud to hold an award given by the organization that the namesake of my school, Garth Webb, valued so highly.”
Garth Webb landed with the Canadian 14th Field Artillery on Juno Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944 and fought through Northwestern Europe until the end of the war in Europe in May 1945 (the war in the Pacific theatre continued until mid-August 1945). After the war, he completed his commerce degree at Queen’s University and had a successful career as a real estate broker and appraiser. He passed away in Burlington at age 93 on May 8, 2012 – the 67th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.
This past May marked the 75th anniversary of V-E Day amid global cancellations of commemorative events that would have seen many of the remaining World War II veterans returning to the battlefields of Europe for the final time. As many people around the world draw parallels between the current COVID pandemic and social uprisings and the war that saw massive collective mobilization to support the Allied effort, the dwindling numbers of living witnesses to the most pivotal moments in modern history is especially poignant. In the span of the five years leading up to the 75th anniversary of D-Day in 2019, Canada’s Second World War veteran population diminished by more than half. By the 80th anniversary of D-Day in 2024, there may be none left that can travel back to Normandy to honour the memories of the 45,000 Canadians who lost their lives during the war, and the over 1 million who served. The work shared by the JBC and GWSS to pass the torch of remembrance to new generations is more important than ever.
For their part, Ms. Onate and Ms. Sakaki are both taking with them lessons from their time at GWSS and their deep appreciation of what ordinary Canadians sacrificed to restore freedom to millions of people experiencing persecution and suffering at the hands of Hitler’s fascist Nazi regime. Both are pursuing post-secondary studies they hope will lead to careers that will positively impact the world and their fellow citizens.
In September, Ms. Sakaki will attend McMaster University’s Life Sciences Gateway program, with the intention of pursuing a career in molecular biology and genetics.
Ms. Onate will attend Ryerson University to earn a degree in nursing, after which she plans on continuing her education to become a registered nurse and “help as many people as I can.”
Both scholarship winners expressed their gratitude to the JBC and GWSS, with Ms. Sakaki saying she feels “honoured” to be the recipient of the academic award.
Ms. Onate shared, “I’d like to thank Garth Webb Secondary School and the Juno Beach Centre for all the support and guidance given that has played a part in shaping who I am today and who I will become.”
The Juno Beach Centre recently reopened with strict health and safety measures in place after an almost 3-month mandatory closure of all museums by the Government of France. Updated visitor information, including COVID-19-related changes, for Canadians in Europe or planning a trip to Europe is available at www.junobeach.org along with a rich variety of Second World War resources for the public, educators and students.