Welcome Home to Cambridge

In late May of this year when the Portraits of Honour team met for the first time we looked at the schedule and wondered how are we going to pull this off? Seven months, one hundred and sixteen stops and over forty thousand kilometers later this historical odyssey came full circle. The tour kicked off with the Celebrate Me Home launching in Kitchener, Ontario on May 28th with Governor General David Johnston in attendance.

The city of Cambridge, its citizens and the Kinsmen and Kinette Clubs of Preston welcomed home its prodigal son, artist Dave Sopha and the POH team. Approximately 150 people attended a reception ceremony inside at the Maple Grove Fleet Centre garage. Heart felt praise came from the likes of MPP for Cambridge-North Dumfries Rob Leone, Mayor Doug Craig and Cambridge-North Dumfries MP and the Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear.

Goodyear said, “Mr. Sopha’s mobile monument, celebrated by Canadians from sea, to sea, to sea, was made possible because of an unwavering dedication and patriotism for our country’s troops. Today his Portraits of Honour is a celebrated national treasure, a gift to our nation.”

At that evening’s fund raising gala held at Branch 126 of the Royal Canadian Legion, Sopha was regaled with more accolades this time from Kin Canada Executive Director Ric McDonald and National Project Manager Bruce Lloyd.

Lloyd paid homage for the supporters behind the scenes especially Dave’s wife Penny and their entire family. Behind every good man there is a woman. For three years Penny only saw the back of her husband leaving for the studio at Kin headquarters early in the morning for up to sixteen hour days, returning home late at night to a warmed up meal. Her unwavering support and the ultimate sacrifice she made goes above and beyond the call of duty.

Dave’s four children, 14 grandchildren and one great grandchild also deserve praise for their understanding of what their father was doing. Missing birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions was in all intents and purposes a labour of love and obsession. They endured and persevered.

Over the course of the tour Dave received a plethora of thanks too numerous to count. Well, here are just a few more.

Thank you for your vision, dedication and a heart of gold. You have unified Canadians from all walks of life. You awoke a country and put R-E-S-P-EC-T back into our military again. You have provided an avenue for the fallen soldier’s families and all Canadians to heal, memorialize and always remember their ultimate sacrifice. This mural as Gary Goodyear said is a national treasure. Its value is priceless and is also a grim reminder that the cost of freedom is not free. It comes with a cost. One hundred and fifty-eight young soldiers, sailors and aircrew paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Thank you for the once in a lifetime opportunity to see this great country and to meet the thousands of citizens whose diversity, uniqueness and distinctness makes up the fabric of Canada. We have experienced the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Calgary, Prime Minister Steven Harper, the repatriation of Bombardier Karl Manning in Trenton, meeting Chief of the Defense Staff General Walt Natynczyk, Retired General Rick Hillier, Retired Major General Lewis MacKenzie, Defense Minister Peter McKay and Veterans Affairs Minister Stephen Blaney.

You allowed us to meet a number of the families and to share their tears, fears and stories about their loved ones. Hopefully our team made a difference for them in the healing process and to spread the message about respect for our armed forces.

From this writer’s perspective that made the entire journey, it was one helluva ride. You don’t realize how expansive this country is until you climb the wheel of a vehicle and drive from coast to coast to coast with a ragtag group of individuals who gelled together to perform each day to the best of his/her ability.

A big debt of gratitude goes to the Kinsmen, Kinette and Kin clubs plus other organizations who provided venues for POH to attend. Without the hard work from these committees the painting would have had no place to show. Your hospitality shown to us we can never repay.

For the Portraits of Honour, the best is yet to come.