FLAGS OF REMEMBRANCE - Al Cameron

Executive Director shares journey to visit Flags of Remembrance sites in Eastern Canada

Flags of Remembrance a Veterans Voices of Canada initiative, has humble beginnings alongside Highway 11.

Now in their third year of flying outside Sylvan Lake, the Flags of Remembrance a Veterans Voices of Canada initiative, has humble beginnings alongside Highway 11.

Since the inaugural local unfurling of 128 maple leafs in 2014, the reach of Veterans Voices of Canada and the Flags of Remembrance now stretches coast to coast. 2016 saw nine communities coordinating efforts across Canada to host a simultaneous nation wide homage to heroism.

The flags, in each location pay tribute to the 128,000 missing and fallen in action from the Boer War to current day.

Executive Director of Veterans Voices of Canada and Sylvan Lake resident, Allan Cameron never dreamed that he would one day have the chance to visit multiple Flags of Remembrance sites across Canada.

Following the wildly successful first raising of the Flags of Remembrance outside Sylvan Lake three years ago, the organization has watched as communities across the country have reached out to them asking how they can host events of their own.

This October Cameron had the opportunity of a lifetime to return to his hometown of Sydney, Nova Scotia to open their Flags of Remembrance ceremony. During his trip he was able to visit Flags of Remembrance sites in five other eastern locations all the while documenting veterans in communities along the way.

“The idea for the road trip began when we were able to arrange for me to open the ceremonies in Sydney my hometown,” he explained. “It was a two pronged effort. I wanted to open the first Flags of Remembrance ceremony in Sydney and there was also a number of veterans who were willing to be interviewed but were scattered throughout Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario.”

“With that consideration I went home to Sydney, opened the Flags of Remembrance at their inaugural ceremony and from there I travelled west doing interviews and visiting the other five Eastern locations along the way.”

Cameron’s cross country trip was one of great value for the organization and began as soon as he left Alberta. As he journeyed through Saskatchewan and Manitoba it was the nods of appreciation along with the waves of support and acknowledgement that made the driving worth while. The support continued as he made his way closer to Nova Scotia where he was to open the inaugural Sydney Flags of Remembrance ceremony with his mom a true dream come true for Cameron.

He arrived at the Flags of Remembrance location in Sydney at 11 p.m. two nights before opening ceremonies.

“All of the poles were in place but the flags were wrapped and ready to be released two days later,” he recalled. “It’s amazing to see the flags unfurled and flying but that night just to see the flag poles up the way they were told me it was going to be amazing.”

“The Saturday it happened we had students, military both past and current serving, police, fire fighters we had a person on every flag pole releasing the flags one by one down the line.”

Cameron added he couldn’t imagine a happier home for the a Flags of Remembrance tribute site in Nova Scotia than Open Hearth Park in Sydney. Open Hearth Park includes a multi-use sports field with synthetic turf, a commons area, an outdoor concert venue and skating area, a playground, a bike park and dog park, and a trail network with bridges connecting downtown Sydney with the communities of Whitney Pier, Ashby and the North End.

It wasn’t just the stunning location that blew Cameron away while opening the Sydney ceremonies.

“The highlight of my trips to Sydney is always seeing my mom, but to bring this initiative back to Sydney and see the support there blew me away,” he explained. “My family finally got to see what I do. Then there were the old friends and to have people come up to you who you haven’t seen in 20 years and recognize what we’re doing as important felt pretty amazing.”

Following the opening ceremonies Cameron headed for Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island where he was visually astounded by the beauty he witnessed thanks to a partnership with the City of Charlottetown.

“The thing about the Maritime is you’re usually by water. In Charlottetown the Flags of Remembrance site is right downtown pretty much on the waterfront in an oval shape around a local park. The Parks Department with the City of Charlottetown sets them up and maintains them and they do a truly wonderful job,” explained Cameron on the Prince Edward Island location. “Prince Edward Island is the Province of Confederation, so to be able to have a Flags of Remembrance site there is amazing.”

Riverview, New Brunswick was next up on Cameron’s cross country trip where he saw the hard work of the town’s local flag representative Jordan Chiasson come to life.

They ran into some issues with that site which ended with him, his mom and his dad hand digging all 128 holes for the flags to be put in. The three of them spent two days digging holes,” explained Cameron. “Jordan is a young guy and also a history buff like myself. I knew he got it and really understood what we were trying to do shortly after meeting him. After hearing about him having to dig the flags by hand it showed me how dedicated of a young man he is.”

Next on the Flags of Remembrance road trip was the site in Ottawa hosted at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum by U.N. Nato Canada volunteers. When Cameron arrived to see the flags, he was thrilled to meet a fellow Albertan and veteran who had made the trip from Calgary to pick up a hero plaque that had been sponsored in his name.

“It was an amazing moment,” said Cameron, adding he is hoping to arrange an interview with the Calgary veteran in the near future.

The success of the Ottawa event has led to a number of other museums looking to get on board and host Flags of Remembrance events in their own respective locations across the country.

“We’re trying to get this into as many communities as possible, in five years I’d like to see Flags of Remembrance sites in hundreds of communities,” explained Cameron. “We want to make the Flags of Remembrance a national institution, where people expect it every first Saturday of every October.”

“We’re getting more buzz around the events every year. People look at the Canadian Flags and understand what it’s about. The fact is, we’re getting people talking about what the Canadian flag means and about what our tribute means.”

The final stop along the Flags of Remembrance journey was in Kingston, Ontario to see the flag line at the Landing Golf Course.

“The flags were flying for me when I drove into Kingston, almost like they were welcoming me to the city. It was a beautiful moment,” said Cameron adding ‘the flags really do fly proudly in Kingston.’

Last year’s event in Kingston marked a special occasion for Veterans Voices of Canada.

“Back in Kingston that was the first year that Veterans Voices of Canada, as an organization, donated money back to a charity you’ve asked me about proud moments, that was a proud moment for me,” he explained, adding funds are raised at each site through Hero Plaque sponsorships which sees engraved maple leafs being added to flag poles with the name of an honouree. “We presented a cheque to a local organization, the Dominium Assistance Dogs for their work. That’s a big part of what we are trying to do here is raise funds and awareness for organizations across the country.”

“Yes we’re helping Veterans Voices of Canada to continue what we’re doing which is veteran documentation, tributes, honour sites and living history displays throughout the year and this helps us with all of that, but 50 per cent of the positive funds that come in through each of these locations is donated to a local charity.”

As Cameron carried on his Canadian cruise he also made stops in Huntsville and Chatham in Ontario where he spent around a week strictly interviewing and documenting the stories of veterans.

“Everyone of them has an amazing story,” he added. “It’s an honour and a privilege to have these guys and gals sit down with me and tell me their story that in most cases none of their families even knows about.”

“They’re opening up their life to me and that doesn’t happen often in regular life, so to have them do that with Veterans Voices of Canada and with me that’s pretty amazing.”

With a passion for what he does, Cameron considers veteran documentation a never ending educational experience.

“One of the most stand out veterans to me for that reason who just passed away about three weeks ago, is Victor Shay,” explained Cameron. “He was the first Second World War veteran I had interviewed who made me realize that PTSD happened way before we had a term for it and way before our current wars.”

Shay was a north Nova Scotia Highlander who fought alongside my Cameron’s uncles in the Second World War.

“He never spoke about his service time until he talked as openly as he did with me. After the interview he said to his friend that he could forget about what he had happened now because it was documented,” recalls Cameron. “His friend said he changed into a different person, he was a different man his family agreed. He was happy before but he was happier after he did the interview his family told me.”

“If that’s the least Veterans Voices of Canada can do is to put a smile on a veteran’s face like that, then so be it. If we are able to off load 70 years of emotional baggage for some one and help to share the weight of that then we absolutely should.”

Canerib added,”Battle is battle, war is war and throughout time, all that’s changed is the weapons and techniques. I’ve seen veterans spanning from second world war veterans to Korean War and U.N. Nato veterans they all have a similar type of post traumatic stress. It’s PTSD and there are different degrees in which it affects people and in different ways.”

He explained that he continues to learn each time he has the chance to interview a veteran and hopes to be <span class="n_ 1703 v