One of the highlights of my time as Minister of Veterans Affairs was bringing together all Veteran groups in a large summit in Ottawa to work on issues together. The day was extra special because my team took the initiative to sit me beside Doug Finney. Doug was the President of the Korean Veterans Association and he also happens to be a good friend of mine from Clarington. Here were two guys from Durham at a national summit in Ottawa – one an octogenarian hero and the other a new and somewhat nervous Minister running the meeting. My team was smart to make Doug my wingman as he helped me make the day a very productive one for veterans.
For decades the bravery and sacrifice made by Doug and his comrades was far better known in South Korea than it was at home in Canada. In fact, when I travelled to Seoul to help finalize the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and South Korea the year before, the Korean Veterans Minister knew Doug by name. I was also amazed by the fact that young school children knew extremely well how Canadians had came to their aide six decades ago. Unfortunately, for decades after the Korean War, their service and sacrifice was not properly appreciated at home due to the fact the Korean War took place a few years after the transformative Second World War and because the United Nations mandate led some to believe that their war was some sort of peacekeeping mission. Despite the fact that 516 Canadians paid the ultimate sacrifice, Korea became known as the “Forgotten War” because it took Canada decades to write the histories and to to properly recognize this part of our history.
I start with this observation because I am very proud to say that Canada is a far more mature and appreciative country today. We acknowledge the service and sacrifice of our military and our uniformed service people far better today than we did for several decades. I write this column on September 11 and the acknowledgement of the 15th Anniversary of 9-11 on social media shows me how important remembering those who serve us, is to people in our area. The people of Durham are well known for their deep respect and acknowledgment of service and we see this in initiatives large and small. From our large gatherings on Remembrance Day to the new initiative in Scugog to hang banners of remembrance along our streets in November. The banners will acknowledge the local residents who stepped forward to serve our country. The Scugog banner program follows the work done by Uxbridge the year before to preserve their military heritage.
Durham is also taking a leadership role this fall to ensure that Canada does not permit the Afghanistan War to slip from our memories like Korea did two generations before. On September 24th, our region will unveil the Highway of Heroes Durham LAV Monument, which will serve as a national monument to commemorate the 40,000 plus Canadians who served in the thirteen year mission in Afghanistan and the ultimate sacrifice paid by the 158 members of the Canadian Armed Forces during that mission. In the Clarington Fields, adjacent to the highway we will unveil a memorial parkette that will serve to remember this mission and the phenomenon of the Highway of Heroes itself. With the iconic Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV) serving as the centrepiece of this park of reflection, the memorial will tell the story of the mission and will preserve the special legacy of the Highway of Heroes itself. As our fallen were returned from Afghanistan at CFB Trenton en route to Toronto, Canadians stood along the highway and on its bridges to show support for the families of the fallen. It was a spontaneous show of patriotism and love and the fact that it was a grassroots outpouring of support makes it a hallowed memory for our country. I have spoken to many families of the fallen about the Highway of Heroes and for them it was a brief spark of hope amid the darkness of grief.
I am very proud of our community for coming together on this project. I have described this special project as the modern equivalent of a Barn Raising. Local volunteers stepped forward together to organize, plan and raise funds to make it a reality. St. Mary’s has donated the concrete for the project and Halminen Homes stepped up to run the construction project. The Muncipality of Clarington, from its council to staff have stepped up in a major way to make this a reality. And from the donations from everyday citizens to the tremendous support from developers and companies in Durham, the materials, funds and passion for the project took form over the months since it was launched with special guest General Rick Hillier at the Ontario Regiment Armouries in June. We will also acknowledge the 150 years of service by Durham’s proud Ontario Regiment at the monument as well. Our final public outreach event and sponsor recognition event is this Thursday at Old Flame Brewery in Port Perry, so there is still an opportunity to help us make this special project a reality.
While we truly hope there will never be another repatriation along the Highway of Heroes, we must mark this important chapter in Canada’s history. The Highway of Heroes and the memory of our fallen belongs to all of Canada, but the Durham Region is truly the guardian of the highway and its legacy. The Highway of Heroes runs from our east in Clarington to our west in Pickering and Durham has the ability to safeguard this legacy for all Canadians. As we saw with the Korean War, if we do not commemorate the service and sacrifice of Canadians shortly after their mission, there is a very real risk we will not live up to our pledge to remember. I am truly proud that Durham is helping Canada to ensure that We Will Remember Them.
For more information about the Highway of Heroes Durham LAV Monument Project, you can visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/hwyofheroesdurhamlav/