By Jim Scott
Toronto school teacher Jean Miso has set herself some lofty goals. Not only does she want every Canadian student to know and appreciate the sacrifices made by previous generations of Canadian service personnel, but she wants to comfort and acknowledge the needs of today’s veterans.
Unlike most of us who feel our duty done when we buy a poppy on Remembrance Day, Jean tirelessly travels the country to perform her songs and get teachers and students engaged on honouring our military personnel past and present. She sells her books, not for self-aggrandizement, but to fundraise for veterans. She is an Ontario representative for ‘No Stone Left Alone’ which works to
ensure every veteran gets a ceremonial burial.
“My focus is on educating young people because I was a teacher. To me its an important aspect of remembrance; getting students involved. It’s done in a military format with prescribed procedures, but they’re leading it. It’s fantastic to see how energised they are; they get it. At the end they say; ‘this will be with us forever’, so afterward I have a reflection piece that I have them do.”
Jean has no military background herself, but had a grandfather in the First World War. Only when she read his diaries after his death, did she come to appreciate the every day sacrifices incurred by people in uniform.
“His writing was very simple but spoke volumes,” she says. “You see after a time that everyone who has served has an outstanding experience that has benefitted Canadians. You think, how lucky we are to have people who will go out and do these difficult jobs.”
Inspired to care and to do something about it, Jean became the heart and soul of annual Remembrance Day ceremonies at Toronto area schools at which she taught. She says she always received excellent support from her principals and fellow teachers. They are the ones who urged her to take her song “We’ll Never Forget”, and turn it into a published book.
With five books now in print, Jean is conscious of the need to reach a wide audience, old and young. Her books are suitable for Ontario’s Grade 10 History curriculum, and she invites teachers to turn it into a Power Point Presentation for school assemblies.
“I write simply and avoid or explain any acronyms. I try to make it so any reader who is unfamiliar or new to military history can use them to lead to more detailed books.”
Jean’s thirty-year career in education included (and continue on a ‘supply’ basis) teaching the developmentally disabled at Seneca and Maple Leaf Public.
“They were primarily non-verbal so we worked at every way to communicate. I taught music through sign language. Since they didn’t have a Remembrance Day ceremony, I used the occasion to get the kids involved. Even if they didn’t fully comprehend, I wanted them to feel. I wrote the song, “We’ll Never Forget” in a simple style with no modulations so the kids could learn the signs.”
When she committed herself to using writing and singing to reach a wider audience, she started out by mortgaging her house for a $45,000 line of credit to self publish. (“I’ve paid that off!”, she proudly says). Over the years she has received support from business, but the objective has always been to keep costs down, sales up, and return all surplus funds to the veteran’s support charities she contributes to: she paid for a monument on Hill 70 in France, she bought twenty bricks at the Juno Beach Centre, (where she sang her song in front of PM Harper in 2014), she is supporting a statue to John McRae in Ottawa, she donates regularly to the Royal Canadian Legion Poppy Fund and Last Post fund, the Toronto Military Family Resource Centre, and she’ raising funds for the Homes for Heroes Foundation.
“There’s a series of homes being built in each province, on land being donated,” she explains. “In Ontario it’s in London. Raw material costs are around $60,000 and I’ve raised over $12,000 so far and I add to that every year. My goal is to pay for one of those homes.”
With every book sale, Jean gets closer to those twin goals: reach out and engage the younger generation in remembrance, and honour our veterans with any comfort and support she can provide. It helped that an MLA in Alberta bought 38 sets of her books to donate to each school in his riding.
“He put a little sticker on each one, so it’s a win-win. They get recognition for their generosity; the kids get the songs and books to read and sing. Each accompanying CD has an instrumental version so students can learn the songs and perform them.”
Of course, the sales drive donations to all Jean’s causes. Since she is self-published, she not only turns inventory into money for veterans, her reprint costs go down and future sales increase donations.
This magazine was happy to name Jean Miso one of our Top 20 Women in Defence in April (see Vol. 26, #2), and we are not alone. Jean has been named an Honorary Canadian Ranger by the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, received commendations from Veterans Affairs and Land Forces Central Area. Able to sing in English, French, Cree and ASL, Jean wants to let everyone know about our military heritage and debt to those who serve.
“We live in such a beautiful and diverse country; we honour that land and the people who live on it when we honour the men and women who have fought and sacrificed to keep it free. I believe the core values that our Canadian military men and women possess, past and present, are the core values that, as an educator, should be emulated. They are real life, every day heroes that should be celebrated.”
Any one interested in joining Jean’s crusade is urged to go to www.jeanmiso.ca.