T he parking lot embracing a local high school in Sherwood Park where Remembrance Day services are traditionally held rapidly filled up to capacity as our close knit community came to remember. On our way into the school, while making our usual "Did I forget anything?" frisk, my husband and I ran into Ms. Iris Evans, the provincial Minister of Children's Services and former Reeve of our County. After introducing myself I told her about my computer Web Page, Canadian Heroes, describing my intention to record a vital part of our local Canadian history. Impressed, she asked me for a card, which I happily furnished her with. The more people who read and encourage others to read my page, the more they learn about the esteemed company we have living amongst us out here in Sherwood Park.
T o access the auditorium, we must walk through a hall filled with the color parties, representing our Veterans, Peace Keepers, RCMP Officers, Cadets, Scouts and Guides and Forest Rangers, all in uniform, patiently waiting for the services to begin. I'm amazed that all these people fit into this small space when they literally fill the auditorium floor to capacity. Perhaps that's why it feels almost suppressive in there. Though we arrived 30 minutes early the auditorium is already crammed full of people and there is only standing room left.
A s I greet some of the Veterans whom I interviewed over the past year, sitting in the front row, I am sorry to learn that one of them just lost his wife a few months earlier. His eyes are already full of tears as he wonders if he'll make it through the ceremony. I hug him and express my confidence that he can, reminding him that he has been through extreme circumstances before and prevailed with honor.
A special honor guard of four naval cadets, proudly march into the auditorium, and approach the memorial cenotaph to take up their esteemed positions of respect standing at each corner, facing outward, heads bowed and guns pointing face down. Moments later, I listen as the troop of Naval Cadets charged with being flag bearers in the colour party, line up to enter the auditorium as they receive last minute instructions. "If your legs are in pain from standing at attention for too long, or you are feeling faint, just drop to one knee. Don't worry about it, just do it. However make sure to hand off your flag to the person beside you before you do. " I locked my knees and stood at a attention to understand what their commanding officer was referring to and it wasn't long before my legs were screaming with pain.
A s the Cadets march towards the cenotaph, and take up their positions beside the memorial cenotaph I'm filled with much respect for the youth of our community. Moments earlier I had encountered a brother and sister whom I supervise at New Horzons School, in their Scout and Guide unform, two of the youth groups supported in our community by the Legion. Another student I supervise is at the Butter Dome in Edmonton, participating in the Remembrance Day Ceremonies as a Naval Cadet and drummer in the Core band. We truly live in a great community, amidst thriving kids who have stellar Canadian Heroes to look up to.
A s the RCMP pipe band begins to play and the color parties march into the auditorium, I find myself crowded up against the bleachers, standing beside a young mother holding her very dynamic one year old young son. As the prayers are being said, the little boy rearranged his mothers hair and glasses. After tiring of that he discovered that my sweater feels very soft, and eventually discovered my poppy. When he isn't exploring it is obvious that he has just discovered the fine art of clapping as he claps his hands constantly. At his squeal and his mother's broad smile I discovered that his big sister is standing with the Girl Guide color party right in front of us. As his big sister gasps at her little brother's antics, their Mom beams with pride and I can't help but chuckle.
A t the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, silence descends upon the gathering as the audience solemnly stands at attention, respectfully bowing their heads for two minuets. All you can hear is the sound of people breathing except of course, for the applause from the little tyke beside me who claps his hands through the whole experience, until his mom desperately distracted him with a bottle. In my mind, that precious little boy made the two-minute gesture of silent respect even more poignant as I'm reminded that our Proud Veterans fought and died so that life could go on.
W hile the wreaths are being laid at the foot of the memorial cenotaph, I discovered that I had lost sight of my husband. I find him crowed against the bleachers on the other side of the entry into the gym. As I joined him I noticed the same trim elderly man wearing a red beret as I had seen last year. Lost in the ceremony unfolding on the gym floor, he graciously offered his good vatange point to someone else until he was standing way at the back behind everyone, just like last year. He held the same light blue book as he had brought last year, referring to it often, by slowly fanning it's pages and lovingly noting it's contents. My curiosity about this man is interrupted as an elderly lady in the crowd collapses from the heat and is helped out of the auditorium by two paramedics.
A s the official procession began to leave the auditorium I had to moved back out of the way and found myself standing beside the man with the red beret. The thunderous applause erupting from the audience caused him to refer to his book again and unbeknownst to him, from my new vantage point I could see it's contents. The book was full of pictures, carrying names such as Jannik, and Reygier. He lingered over a few of the photographs especially, gently running his thumb on the corner of the page, before softly closing it and quickly wiping the tears from his eyes. As I look towards the procession passing by, I notice my esteemed friend, the WWII Navy Veteran who has just lost his wife and I realize that the man with the red beret has lost people he loves too. As he repeats the same routine again, I'm overcome by the poignancy of the moment and began to cry. I touched his shoulder and gently shook his hand just before he disappeared into the crowd. I looked for him in the procession to the cenotaph in front of the county buildings, and later at the legion but he was not there. His is a quiet agony that he proudly bears alone, except for one spontaneous moment at the Remembrance Day ceremonies in Sherwood Park, Alberta, 1999.
L ater at the Legion, I met and talked to members of our local Peace Keepers from the base in Edmonton, the local RCMP, and the Sherwood Park Naval Cadets to enlist their help in expanding my Canadian Heroes page to include their special brand of Guardianship.
I was drawn to a Peace Keeper standing with his three year old daughter while talking to various other people at the celebration. I took a picture of them just as she peeked through her daddy's legs at me. It was a special moment, and I was reminded of the sacrifices that the families of our enlisted personel are still making for our freedom. He is a commander in the Princess Patricia Tank Division, and some of his men are presently over in Kosovo. Although he doesn't deploy overseas anymore, he does train soldiers all over Canada and must leave his family for many months at a time.
E veryone's attention was drawn to the stage, as a lone piper began to play "Amazing Grace" and I thought once again of my friend in the red beret. As the entire band swelled into the second verse, I closed my eyes and wished all my Canadian heroes much peace in the coming year.
Click on the Canada Goose|
and follow it back to the Library