November brings calls for remembrance throughout Canada and much of the world. 

Timothy Findley’s The Wars is an important piece of that.

Grand Theatre’s Artistic Director Dennis Garnhum, who is also directing, adapted the piece of historical fiction – originally published as a novel in 1977 – the for stage in 2007. The story follows a young Canadian Lieutenant-Sergeant Robert Ross, played by Alex Furber, and his experience trying to grapple with the atrocious realities of trench warfare.

Led by Furber, the strong acting of the cast is complemented by immaculate set design and precise lighting and audio cues that brings the audience right into the trenches. Several times throughout the performance, members of the audience can be seen jumping in their chairs from the shock of simulated artillery barrages.

Ensemble in Timothy Findley’s The Wars. Photo by Dahlia Katz

Other than digging a trench in your own backyard (which Findley is reported to have done as part of his research process while writing the original novel), this is about as close as one can get to the first-hand experiences of Canadian soldiers during the First World War.

Accuracy and agony

While the set and technical design greatly add to the play’s realism, it is the torment depicted by Furman and the other soldiers in the cast that is perhaps the most historically accurate. Logic is superseded by orders. Madness is everywhere. The struggle to make any sense of their surroundings is real and ever-present.

This is the reality of a Canadian soldier on the front lines during World War I.

Alex Furber, Marcel Stewart, and Jeff Lillico in Timothy Findley’s The Wars. Photo by Dahlia Katz

For someone who is not familiar with the novel, the play can at times be hard to follow – like the nature of war itself – as are the motivations of the young Canadians who gave their lives to the mud of Belgium and France.

The history books often tell us they fought and died for King and Country, for liberty, for our freedom. This important piece of historical fiction and theatre demonstrates that while that may be the reason why these young men enlisted, when in the trenches, they fought merely for basic survival.

Far too many were unsuccessful.

May their memory serve as a reminder to all that war is never gloriful.

Lest We Forget.

On stage at the Grand until November 11. Visit for tickets and more info.

Feature photo by Dahlia Katz


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