In a career filled with memorable moments, hundreds in fact, and that’s not an exaggeration, it’s hard to isolate just one, or two, or even ten. I’m often asked about the things I did on the show. What was your best interview? What was your worst? What’s ‘such and such’ really like? What’s the best place you’ve been? What’s the one thing you remember the most? All of these are great, but tough to answer questions. Moments you remember aren’t planned, they just happen, when you least expect it. But I can isolate one moment, that will stand out for me forever. And once it went ‘full circle’, I knew nothing would ever top it.
Back in May of 2015, Canada AM was doing a week of shows from France. I’ve mentioned in this blog before that ‘AM’ did a brand partnership with Scenic Luxury Tours, the European River cruise specialist, in August of 2014 when we did a week of shows from the south of France. That venture was so successful for both parties, that Scenic decided to partner with us again in May of 2015 to highlight a cruise on the Seine in the north of France. We started out Monday with a show from Paris on May 11th, 2015, and from there did one from Rouen the next day, then two days in the stunning port city of Honfleur and on Friday May 15th, from Courseulles-sur-Mer on the Normandy Coast and the location of the Juno Beach Centre.
I had arrived in France on Thursday May 7th, and took the train from Paris to Caen, where we would stay while shooting some stories to insert in the show from around Juno Beach. This is, of course, where Canadians landed during the June 6th, 1944 D-Day Normandy invasion. I remember arriving at the Juno Beach Centre, a place all Canadians should be proud of, and more importantly, visit if possible, and took the path for the short walk down to the beach. The minute you set foot there, you can’t help but wonder what it was like. We’ve read the stories, we’ve seen the photos, we know the history, but to be actually standing there, some 71 years later, was awe inspiring, humbling and strangely and eerily calming, despite the wind and the pounding surf. I wish I could explain it better. We shot stories at the Juno Beach Centre, and the area around the Centre, including the beach. We also made a necessary side trip to Beny-sur-Mer, home of the Canadian War Cemetery, final resting place for over 2000 Canadians killed during the invasion and in the months to follow.
We left the region, forever changed a bit I think, and made our way to Paris on Friday the 8th, knowing we would return for a show a week later.
On Thursday the 14th, when we were doing our second show in Honfleur, I was doing some more research on the Normandy area and discovered the iconic ‘La Maison des Canadiens’, or ‘Canada House’, located in Bernieres-sur-Mer, was just a few kilometres down the beach from the Juno Beach Centre. ‘Canada House’ was one of the first, if not the first, building liberated from the Germans just 20 minutes into the invastion. The Queen’s Own Rifles of Toronto landed in front of the house, and in those first 20 minutes, 100 Canadian soldiers would be killed or wounded. The house, instantly recognizable from hundreds of photos taken that day in 1944, is actually a duplex. The Hoffer family owned half of the house, but were evicted by the Germans during the war. When the QOR liberated the house, it made its way back to the family. To this day, the Hoffers welcome Canadian soldiers and visitors and decorate their half of the property with Canadian flags. Many a Canadian veteran has made a pilgrimage to the location, and I just knew we had to include it in our show the next day.
We left Honfleur and made the drive the Bernieres-sur-Mer where we quickly found the historic house. I went out on to the beach in front of it and we shot a ‘stand-up’ with me talking about the house, its history and the circumstances surrounding its liberation. When the piece was edited together, we included photos from D-Day to show the house ‘then and now’. I had always wanted to see and visit that house, and it was really a happy accident that I found it, even though it was always right there under my nose.
Our final show from France was Friday May 15th, from the Juno Beach Centre where we broadcast live, and included our taped pieces on the cemetery, the bunkers at Juno Beach, a tour of the Centre itself and Canada House. At the end of the show, we made the three and a half hour drive back to Paris, and I returned home on Saturday May 16th. Little did I know my memories of Normandy and Juno Beach, were, in fact, not quite complete.
Monday May 18th was a holiday in 2015, so I returned to work on Tuesday May 19th and discovered an email from Mark Ross of St. Lazare Quebec. He included the above photo. It’s a shot of his TV, with me doing my report, standing on the beach, in front of ‘Canada House’ in Bernieres-sur-Mer. The two people, at his home watching the report, are Herve and Nicole Hoffer..owners of the house! Mark’s father was a member of the Queen’s Own Rifles and helped to liberate the home on D-Day. The Hoffers were in St. Lazare to visit him at the St. Annes Veterans Hosptial in Montreal. They just happened to be watching Canada AM the Friday before, and up popped their house. Mark set up the photo and sent it to me, and it’s one I will cherish forever. You just never know who is watching.
On twitter: @jeffhutcheson
On Instagram: jeff.hutcheson
Info on my Scenic Luxury Tours Danube Cruise
Info on my Scenic Luxury Tours Mekong Cruise: https://www.scenic.ca/jeffvims
Representation: Dan Champagne