In honour of Canada’s 150th birthday, The CJN presents 40 profiles of some of the most prominent Jewish Canadians throughout our history.
Montreal native Ed Fitch is a retired major general with the Canadian Armed Forces who served Canada for 43 years. He had an illustrious career from 1966 through to his semi-retirement in 2006.
During that time he received the Meritorious Service Medal for his work in the former Yugoslavia, facilitating NATOs entry. He was also appointed an Officer of the Order of Military Merit in June 1999, the military equivalent of the Order of Canada.
As a colonel in the mid-1990s, Fitch was in the former Yugoslavia when the United Nations’ peacekeeping force, which he was part of, was contracted out to NATO.
“It was an astounding change that had never happened before: an in-place transition from a UN command to a NATO command,” he reflected.
“It was December 1995 when we all removed our UN badges and rolled over to this NATO force, with a completely different set of rules. As a combat engineer on the land force, I was the guy on the ground preparing for the incoming 50,000 troops who needed minefields cleared, bridges built and accommodations created.”
At 50, Fitch was promoted to brigadier general and was in command of a division of 12,000 members of the military and civilians, and a land mass that stretched from Thunder Bay to Vancouver Island and up into the Arctic.
“My staff enjoyed telling me that it was the largest military district in the world, happily a fairly benign one,” he jokes. The division’s responsibilities were domestic – attending to forest fires and tornadoes – as well as deployed operations, and Fitch regularly prepared troops of 1,000 to 2,000 to fly to Bosnia, Afghanistan and other countries where they were needed.
In 2001 he was appointed major general, a rank third from the top in Canada’s Armed Forces, and relocated to Ottawa. Here, he supervised planning the restructuring and modernization of Canada’s army reserves.
Fitch had just relocated to Victoria, B.C., when in 2006 he was called up from the supplementary reserve in support of Operation PODIUM, the Canadian Armed Forces’ support to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
His primary duty was the leadership of the Games Red Team, a project in which he and his team synthesized a terrorist cell and created practice scenarios to prepare Olympics planning staff for a potential attack.
“Our goal was to improve the capacity of the armed forces to deal with some potentially devastating situations,” he explained. “The model behind it is, train hard, fight easy. We disciplined ourselves to be real and started giving Olympics planning staff gentle problems, upping the ante to present them with tougher and tougher problems.”
After the Winter Olympics, when his full retirement came into effect, Fitch dedicated himself to community work. As a qualified civil engineer he was instrumental in helping with the construction of the Centre for Jewish Life and Learning (Chabad), the first new synagogue to be built on the island since 1863. He volunteers with the Victoria Jewish Cemetery Trust and the Vancouver Island Chevra Kadisha, and serves as Chair of CIJAs National Community Security Committee.
He’s been house committee chair and treasurer of Congregation Emanu-El and a board member of the Jewish Historical Society of B.C. But Fitch’s Jewish volunteerism is just one aspect of his larger community involvement.
He serves on volunteer boards of directors of not-for-profit organizations including the Last Post Fund; the Royal United Services Institute of Vancouver Island and the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires, Victoria, the Islands and Yukon division. He’s also life governor of the Dominion of Canada Rifle Association and the British Columbia Rifle Association.
Fitch received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for his tireless community work and credits the support of his family, particularly his wife Sharon, for his professional career and extensive volunteer service.