MPP for York-Simcoe and Ontario’s Attorney General, the Hon. Caroline Mulroney announced a major initiative at the annual Remembrance Dinner at the Bradford Legion, on Saturday night.
Speaking of the need “to honour the heroism of so many Canadians – our veterans and members of the Canadian Armed Forces,” MPP Mulroney announced that her Progressive Conservative government will be taking steps to exempt the hundreds of Legions located in communities across the province from paying property taxes.
More than 100 people at the dinner – including Legionnaires and Ladies Auxiliary members, veterans, serving members of Canada’s military and political representatives – applauded the announcement.
“That’s a tremendous initiative,” said emcee Dennis Roughley, long-time Legion member, noting it was something that branches of the Royal Canadian Legion, a not-for-profit organization, had long requested.
It wasn’t the only program introduced by Mulroney. She told the gathering that the provincial government also has plans to create a monument at Queen’s Park honouring veterans of Afghanistan, and will begin consultation on a new program to provide support for families of veterans “in a meaningful way.”
The theme of the evening was gratitude, towards those who served. Mulroney warned against “taking for granted the freedoms” that were purchased “at great cost by so many.”
She was not the only politician present at the dinner. Former MP for York-Simcoe Peter Van Loan, now retired, and Scot Davidson, recently chosen as the riding’s federal Conservative candidate, were also guests.
“This is a very important weekend,” said Davidson. “This year in particular is the 100th anniversary of the Armistice to end the ‘War to end all Wars’ (the First World War),” although “That wasn’t to be,” he said. Instead, Canadians continued to serve and to die in the conflicts that followed.
“Their sacrifices will not be forgotten,” Davidson said, thanking not only veterans but their families. Noting that his grandfather served in the First World War, and both uncles in the Second World War, he added, “I for one am eternally grateful for the sacrifices of our veterans.”
Nancy Zajacz, daughter of World War II veteran Orville Hand, who gave his name to Branch 521 of the Legion, and to the new Cadet Flight 37 recently launched in Bradford, also spoke.
“It was nine years ago today that we lost my father, Orville Hand,” Zajacz said. “My dad never, ever talked about the experiences in war time.” Sharing those experiences is important, she said. “For the young people here today who know nothing about war, it’s so great to hear the stories.”
She thanked veterans and legionnaires “for all your hard work and all the sacrifices.”
Air Cadet Flight 37 Commanding Officer Major Stephen Case was the guest speaker at the Remembrance Dinner. He spoke of the “symbiotic relationship the Legion has had with Cadets,” for decades.
The RCL was launched in 1925, as the “Canadian Legion of the British Empire League, a voice for veterans of World War I,” Major Case said – evolving into a service organization that also provided support for the Air Cadet program that was launched in 1941, with the goal of directing youth towards aviation during World War II.
“The goals of the Legion and the goals of the Cadet corps have blended together,” Case said. Legions have become “stewards of Canadian military ethos” – like the Cadet program, preserving and passing on “the ethical and moral values that we as a country hold dear.”
He said he had recently spoken with an employee at the local Home Depot, who briefly joined cadets but was unable to continue because the nearest squadron was in Aurora, and who expressed regret that there hadn’t been a Cadet program in Bradford when he was growing up. “He learned things that he has carried with him his entire life,” said Case, adding that now that a squadron is being established in Bradford, “We’re going to make you proud.”
“We are here to remember those who have served and sacrificed for us,” said BWG Mayor-elect Rob Keffer. Accompanied by in-coming Council members Deputy Mayor James Leduc and Councillors Ron Orr, Peter Dykie Jr., Mark Contois, Raj Sandhu and Gary Baynes, Keffer noted that this year marks the 100th anniversary since the armistice put an end to conflict in World War I, “the war that our ancestors hoped would be the war to end all wars.”
It didn’t, said the mayor - pointing out that year will mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, 65 years since the end of the Korean War, 27 years since the cessation of the Gulf War, and 5 years since Canada ended its combat engagement in Afghanistan.
“We honour the courage, valour and sacrifice of each of these individuals” who served and fell, Mayor Keffer said. “As we are here today in peace and safety, we remember those who have served and sacrificed for us… Lest we forget.”
There was one empty seat, at a small table in the centre of the hall. It was reserved for the Unknown Soldier – representing the nameless soldier who fell in battle, the symbol of the ultimate sacrifice, as well as every soldier who died in time of war.
“The chair is empty. They are not here. Do not forsake them for they have surely not forsaken you,” said Legion president Mike Giovanetti, thanking the community and everyone present for “supporting our branch, supporting our veterans, supporting our community and our cadets.”