In the summer of 1974, Gerry Fostaty was a gangly eighteen-year-old serving as an NCO on a cadet training assignment at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier, located just north of Quebec City, where, in an horrific accident, six young army cadets were killed and fifty-four others injured. As You Were: the tragedy at Valcartier is a painstaking account of the events of that day and its aftermath.
The recounting of the incident, thirty years later, has clearly been a therapeutic exercise for the author. In the preface, he notes that it “gave me the opportunity to organize the events and map everything on a timeline and to assemble the narrative in one place,” and that he needed to tell his family “what had happened to [him] in 1974.” No doubt this need grew out of the fact that, with the exception of some, according to Fostaty, largely erroneous newspaper reporting immediately after the event, the incident was mostly ignored — passively by the Canadian press and public, and actively by the military, with little thought given to the emotional needs of those directly involved.
The reporting is straightforward and unadorned. Fostaty describes himself, that day, as a young and very earnest NCO, in the midst of typing a report while his group of cadets, some of whom would be among the dead and injured, attended an explosives safety lecture in the same building. Something of the military report style has remained in his writing which is careful, detached, and with a tendency to emphasize factual detail at the expense of emotion, although the story told — of being amongst the first on the scene of a live grenade explosion in a roomful of young boys, some now dead, many seriously injured, his own brother possibly amongst them — must have been one of extreme emotional impact. Indeed, Fostaty himself comes to realize the extent of the impact many years later, when we, as a society, had a name for it — post traumatic stress disorder.
As You Were: the tragedy at Valcartier provides a factual account of an important incident in Canada’s military history, told by a first-hand witness, and some interesting insight into our own, and our military’s, evolving attitudes towards the psychic impact of tragedy.