On August 9, 1974, nine Canadian peacekeepers on a routine United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) supply mission were killed when their Buffalo aircraft was shot down over Syria. It was the largest loss of life for Canadian peacekeeping in a single incident.
In 2008, the federal government of Canada proclaimed Aug. 9 as National Peacekeepers Day.
But years before that, Veteran in UN Peacekeeping Michael Comeau persuaded the municipal council of Bradford West Gwillimbury to mark Peacekeepers’ Day by raising the United Nations flag in the municipality.
The town “was the first community in Central Ontario to do so," noted Fern Taillefer, president of the Central Ontario Chapter of the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping (CAVUNP). "Congratulations to the citizens of Bradford West Gwillimbury. You are supporting the troops, wherever they are.”
For years, the annual flag-raising ceremony in BWG was organized by Comeau. More recently, Taillefer has taken on that responsibility and this year, the ceremony was held in Bradford’s Sunshine Square on Aug. 8.
The ceremony was attended by peacekeepers, members of the Bradford legion, South Simcoe Police, Mayor Rob Keffer and members of council in addition to members of the Collier family.
Taillefer dedicated the flag-raising to the memory of Sapper Brian Collier, killed in the line of duty during Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, in 2010.
“He gave his life… for peace. There is no better cause,” Taillefer said, welcoming Carol Collier and daughter Lauren.
Keffer acknowledged both Brian Collier, “our local hero” and Mike Comeau, “the driving force” behind the BWG flag-raising.
“Bradford West Gwillimbury is a town that honours and treasures our heritage… that comes together in times of adversity,” he said, proclaiming Aug. 5-11 as National Peacekeepers Week, and Aug. 9 as National Peacekeepers Day, “recognizing the many Canadians who have given their lives in the cause of peace. Forever may we honour their sacrifice.”
Padre Michael Cassidy, a veteran of UN Peacekeeping, blessed the UN flag, “a flag that many of us have served under in peacekeeping missions around the world. We embrace the freedom we have today, to assemble in the memory of all the men and women who gave their lives.”
He also blessed the Collier family.
“Bless and comfort them as they remember their beloved Brian,” he said. “May we preserve the ideals and courage and the integrity that was the young man Brian Collier.”
Collier, who grew up in Bradford, was 24 when he was killed by an improvised explosive device.
Over the past 70 years, more than 120,000 Canadians have served in UN peacekeeping missions. In recent years, Canada has shifted its support to UN-sanctioned NATO operations; its participation in UN-led deployments has declined.