September 2/3: Keeping the Memory Alive in Fort McMurray

A convoy of over 30 Veterans -UN-NATO-Canada motorcyclists, 6 RCMP, and a number of emergency services vehicles lead the Portraits of Honour tour into the booming city of Fort McMurray on Friday September 2.

Over the course of the two day tour stop in Fort McMurray, it would become apparent that the community is very much commited to keeping the memory of the heroes depicted on the Portraits of Honour mural alive. Included as part of Fort McMurray's popular Summers End Festival, the mural received a great deal of exposure to many of Fort McMurray's residents and even a few out of town celebrity visitors. 

At the Sponsor Appreciation Reception, Project Chair and Local Organizer, Roger Hebblethwaite thanked the dozens of community sponsor who had come together to make the visit to Fort McMurray possible. He also thanked one sponsor in particular, Syncrude, who had provided support for the project in its early stages. " Without support like this," he said, " none of this would be possible."

The following morning, a public ceremony was held on the festival grounds following a fundraising pancake breakfast. The crowd gathered to hear, among others, wounded Afghanistan Veteran Chris Downey, speak. As they listened, they stood among 157 Canadian flags, each emblazoned with the name of a fallen hero. These flags had been personally built and delivered all the way from Prince George, BC by Mr.Jim Fitzpatrick, Father of Corporal Darren James Fitzpatrick, further testiment to just how much this project means to the families of the fallen. 

The parents of Lt. Justin Boyes, who have recently relocated to Fort McMurray, also spoke during the ceremony describing the constant nearness of death that troops in Afghanistan face by reading from letters written by some of those who had served alongside their son. While they said that on a personal level the loss of their son often feels like too great a price to pay, they do believe that what our troops are doing in Afghanistan is worthwhile and necessary. They spoke about the World Wars, and how the loss of many sons then, had provided us with the life we enjoy today. Despite their loss, the pride they felt in knowing thier son had helped to change the course of the future was clear. 

In the evening, thousands more from the community had the chance to remember, honour and celebrate the heroes depicted on the mural as country star George Canyon performed his headline act with the Portraits of Honour mural as his backdrop. As he sang the heart wrenching " I Want You to Live" it was clear the crowd could sense the loss that the families of the fallen face every day. 

In the eyes of that crowd, and in those who gathered at the ceremony, and in the generosity of the sponsors, and the commitment of the families, friends and comrades that speak, build, bike and work on their behalf, it does feel like the memory, and even the soul, of these heroes remains alive. 

When concluding her speech, Lt. Boyes mother read the following poem:

Do not stand at my grave and weep; 
I am not there. I do not sleep. 
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain, 
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry; 

I am not there. I did not die. 

In it's own small way, the Portraits of Honour is helping to keep the essence of who these heroes were alive.