June 27: Stratford, ON - an historic city participates in an historic event

When most think of Stratford, Ontario two things typically come to mind:  the world famous Stratford Festival or the hometown of Justin Bieber.  I guess it just depends on how old you are.

Either way, it’s a city that enjoys a rich history.  Yesterday, it took part in a different kind of historical event as the Portraits of Honour National Tour rolled into Stratford’s Market Square.

With Stratford’s impressive City Hall as our backdrop, the expectation of the tour crew was high based on the relationship that we’ve created over the past few months with the local organizing committee.  Led by Kinsmen Allen Kuntze, the team clearly had a vision that was driven by an even bigger passion.  They set their goals high and failure was not in their vocabulary.

It was important to each of them to ensure that Stratford came together to honour our Canadian Forces troops and to raise money to assist those who come home with OSI (Operational Stress Injury), physical injuries and other financial hardships.  It’s little surprise when you consider that the chairman is a former Corporal in the Canadian Forces and many of their committee were police officers who fully understand the dangers of going to work daily with uncertainty – a fact that hit home just several hours later when a Newmarket, Ontario police officer was killed while making a traffic stop.

The quiet Market Square suddenly began to buzz as the sounds of bagpipes and drums could be heard off in the distance as a special parade made its way from the city’s cenotaph blocks away.  Dozens of Canadian Forces soldiers, Legion members, Army Cadets, Stratford Police, Fire and EMS personnel in full ceremonial dress and many others soon rounded the corner and came to a halt in front of the mural.

Following a brief ceremony, which included a special song by local Ontario singer/songwriter Jack London, the hundreds gathered waited patiently for their turn to get close to the mural.  Those who did were deeply moved.

“It’s amazing to see the determination in their eyes.  These young men and women really did something important.  They were taken too early but their sacrifice made a difference,” said an 84 year old Legion member known only as Ron.

I’m not sure if Ron could recite Shakespeare or name any Justin Bieber tunes but he certainly understood a different kind of art – the art of remembrance.