July 2: Peterborough, ON – Aud

When originally setting the Portraits of Honour National Tour schedule, organizers were contacted by hundreds of people from across Canada requesting us to bring the tour to their community.

Some of these requests were easier to approve than others and Peterborough is one of those.  With five fallen heroes from the Peterborough area, we immediately plotted it into the schedule and the planning began.

It was at this time we met, by telephone, a hard charging young Kinsmen from the local Peterborough Club named Mike. 

We made the same request to Mike that we make to all local committees:  to please create an event that was meaningful.  It doesn’t have to be the biggest or the fanciest but it should be meaningful to the families, to the troops and to those who attend.

But that simply wasn’t going to be good enough for Mike and his team, which included members of the Air Force Club, Canadian Forces Reserves, Legion, Rotary, Air Cadets and other community stakeholders.  They set their minds and hearts on creating the biggest POH event in the country.

The committee set one prime directive that would guide every decision that they would make over the next seven months of planning.  They made a promise to the families of Corporal Randy Payne, Corporal Mark McLaren, Warrant Officer Robert Wilson, Private Michael Freeman and Corporal Nicholas Bulger that every decision the committee made would focus on how best to honour them, their sons and our troops.

They got busy planning and promoting their event and they pulled out all the stops.  Portraits of Honour signs were fastened to the back of city transit buses, advertising was placed in local media, and arrangements were made for the event.

In the wee hours of the morning, the POH convoy rolled into Peterborough and after a few hours sleep it was time to meet Mike and his 2IC Rob Cote for a morning briefing.

It is important to understand that Mike is a former Logistics Officer in our military and he planned today’s event with the military precision of a NATO strike.  So it was little surprise when Mike handed his Ops Order – a 14 page document that outlined every detail of the event.  Mike signs his email with “Per Ardua Ad Astra which means “Through Adversity to the Stars”.

With a committee of 15 people and 19 subcommittees, these folks had left nothing to chance including having a welder, electrician and hydraulics company on stand by just in case … more on that later.

The POH convoy was picked up at the hotel by police escort and was led to Peterborough’s historic Lift Locks for a photo opp.  The lift locks allow boats travelling down the canal to raise the 65 feet necessary to continue their journey.  From there it was off to another photo opp in front of City Hall and then it was a short trip to the Peterborough Armouries where large tents had already been set up by the Hasting & Price Edward Regiment to protect those from the hot sun which was sure to push through the overcast skies.

Prior to the public viewing the families of the fallen were invited to attend a private viewing of the mural.  The tour team was caught a little off guard as almost 80 people crowded onto the small stage.  It was a little tight but people didn’t seem to mind as there was a certain comfort to be found in being surrounded by loved ones and by others who share in the same loss.

Soon it was time for the ceremony signalled by the sound of the Hasting & Prince Edward Regimental Pipe and Drums marching in from two blocks away, past City Hall and the city’s cenotaph and new memorial monuments and eventually the band followed the Air Force 428 Wing Colour Guard into the Armouries’ parade square. 

The ceremony had several poignant moments including participation of the Salvation Army Band and a lone bugler from the Air Cadets who performed The Last Post and a veteran who rang a navy bell once for each of the area's fallen soliders.

No military operation would be complete without air cover and Co-Chair Mike wasn’t going to let his mission be any different.  Following some speeches the skies suddenly rumbled with a special and rare low pass fly over by one of the Canadian Forces newest C130J “Hercules” transport planes.  This is the same plane that has been tasked with the special mission of bringing home the flag draped coffins of many of our fallen heroes. 

Following the public viewing, families were treated to a very private dinner with the families of the fallen.  It was a chance to relax away from the public and a chance to connect and reflect.  This was a very thoughtful gesture by the committee and was a first on our tour.  It was just one of the many thoughtful details that the local committee had considered.

As the public viewing concluded, it was time to pack up the trailer to head back to the hotel.  The rest of the committee had left to head across town to the 428 Air Wing for a much deserved celebratory drink and dinner. 

It was then that someone noticed a small leak of hydraulic fluid from one of the powerful arms that is used to raise and lower the stage. 

All military ops have a contingency and the committee had planned for this one.  Kinsmen Rob Cote, who had remained behind to ensure things packed up well, didn’t hesitate to jump into action.   A local hydraulics company was called out and began to diagnose and repair the hydraulics which rest above and precariously close to the mural which had been covered. 

Rob remained on stage, often holding a bucket over his head, as he was sprayed and covered with hydraulic fluid.  He was joined by POH Tour Team member Chris Young.  These two men were not going to let one drop of fluid fall onto the mural and they protected it with the same ferocity that you would expect from a solider protecting one of his wounded brothers.

It wasn’t too long and the problem was fixed and Rob and the team were able to join the others at the Air Wing where they enjoyed the esprit de corps and feelings that come following a successful mission.

Per ardua ad astra!