July 1: London, ON - Canada Day!

Canada Day is typically a day where we celebrate the birth of a great nation and recognize that which makes our country great.  We gather together in parks and plazas or in backyards to celebrate and we raise and wave our Canadian flags with pride.

Dignitaries speak to audiences clad in red and white, they typically spend a moment recognizing the heroes in our communities and fireworks typically cap off the day.

The mood is patriotic, proud and jubilant along with some moments of reflection.

That is precisely what happened today in London, Ontario’s Harris Park.  Only today there was an extra reason to feel patriotic and proud as the Portraits of Honour mural was unveiled in front of a crowd of soldiers, sailors, aircrew, police officers, firefighters, CAV and other proud Canadians.

The setting couldn’t have been more perfect with various military displays and equipment located directly across from the mural.

Organizers estimated the attendance of the day’s celebrations at 38,000 and the mural enjoyed a steady stream of those people.  The reactions were as we’ve come to know.  There were many tears and stories shared and there were just as many smiles.

The day started with a special visit from the family of Trooper Mark Wilson.  We have met up with Mark’s mother Carolyn and his father Carl before but today was special as we got to meet and visit with   his twin brothers Sean and Scott and his sister Andrea and his young nieces and nephews.

The Wilsons are a close knit family full of pride of their brother who didn’t join the military until he was 35.  As the owner of a bed and breakfast on the northern end of Georgian Bay, Mark and his wife Dawn watched as the Twin Towers fell in New York City on that tragic September 11th.

It wasn’t long after that Mark called his younger brother out of breath after a long run to let him know that he had just signed his papers and was joining the Canadian Forces.   Like so many others he felt compelled to serve.

At 35, Mark was much older than most of his fellow recruits, who started teasing him by nicknaming him “Old Man Wilson”.   But Old Man Wilson trained hard, finished most of the runs at the front of the pack, outlasted and out hustled and he soon earned the respect of the Young Pups.  He quickly became a “soldier’s soldier”.

Many who viewed the mural recognized Mark, who is quite distinctive with his smile, and they also sought out other troops that they knew or had heard of.  Others simply honoured our troops quietly and most took a moment to slip some folding money into the donation bin at the end of the stage.

They had heard the call that our troops still need our financial help and on Canada Day in London, Canadians answered it.

The tour team has started to realize the power of this mobile tribute to our troops. 

We’ve come to realize that it doesn’t matter what day of the week it is or where in the country we are, when we unfold the side of the trailer and unveil the mural, Canadians are coming together to remember, honour and celebrate our troops and heroes.  

People are showing up and showing their patriotism loud and proud and they are making it Canada Day every day of the week for the 157 men and women who gaze out with fierce Canadian pride and determination through oil painted eyes. 

Happy birthday Canada and God bless the men and women who protect us every day and may God bless and watch over their families.