June 11 & 12: Canadian Forces Base Bagotville, QC: Grand Spectacle and Solemn Moments

For those who visited the two-day airshow at CFB Bagotville,  sights and sounds were in abundance and almost overwhelming as talented pilots, rally drivers and aerial performers wowed the crowds with gravity defying stunts, and pin-point precise maneuvers.  The roar of jet engines and the heart-palpitating boom of artillery displays had crowds cheering. Thanks to Veterans Affairs Canada, the Portraits of Honour tour was invited to be on the tarmac, and the tour crew spent many moments eyes wide, faces turned to the skies.

Veterans Affairs Canada has joined with Portraits of Honour in creating history by bringing the very sacred Seventh Book of Remembrance from its normal place of display in the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill to some of the Portraits of Honour Tour Stops.  This marks the first time in the history of Canada's Parliament that any Book of Remembrance has ever been taken to a public event.  We are so very honoured.

The Books of Remembrance commemorate the names of more than 118,000 Canadians who have lost their lives in military conflicts since 1884. There are currently seven Books of Remembrance. Each book has been handcrafted, by skilled artists and artisans, and is a work of art in its own right.  The Seventh Book of Remembrance records the names of all those who have given their lives in military service since October 1, 1947, exclusive of those who have fallen during The Korean War, and who are commemorated in the Book of Remembrance - The Korean War. This includes those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in recent conflicts such as the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.

With all the excitement, one would think it would be easy for the 20,000 plus crowd to overlook the quiet presence of the Portraits of Honour, but one by one the solemn reverence of the portraits drew spectators to find a moment of quiet reflection and gratitude for our Canadian troops. Many spent only a few minutes at the portraits, but often remarked on their hope that there would be no further faces to add to the mural. They commented on how young the men and women on the mural were, how sad it was to lose fellow Canadians with so much heart and so much promise. And yet they talked about our need for brave young men and women like those on the mural; those that are willing to sacrifice to make our country and our world better. 

Some who visited understood the impact of this sacrifice in a very personal way. At one point a young airman came to view the portraits and commented to members of the tour crew that he had known and served with eight of the troops that had fallen. On the stage, looking at the portraits, he remained stoic letting only a few tears fall, but upon leaving the stage he was no longer a troop paying his quiet respects, he was a young man mourning the loss of eight fallen friends. He fell to his knees on the grass near the stage sobbing. It was incredible to see that before anyone other than the tour crew noticed, nearby troops gathered, creating a wall around him. They didn't say a word, or try to stop the tears, they just stood quietly there shielding him from onlookers, and silently showing their support.

This silent support of just being there, of just showing up, of just recognizing that your mere presence can mean so much is also what makes the Portraits of Honour so special. All those who visit Portraits of Honour show this same quiet care for the fallen, for their families and for those who continue to serve and deserve our gratitude.

our Canadian Snowbirds fly over the Portraits of Honour display

Here is some great video from the event: