Do you remember the first time you saw the Flags of Remembrance or the way it made you feel?
The year was 2014. Working for a newspaper in Red Deer at the time, I had been sent on assignment to ‘some where near Sylvan Lake’.
“A man named Allan Cameron is raising over a hundred flags just outside of Sylvan Lake,” said my editor earlier in the week.
Assigned a list of events to photograph that day, it began like any other Saturday tended to. The first was the Veterans Voices of Canada Flags of Remembrance ceremony.
With a coffee in my cup holder I headed west on Highway 11. I kept thinking it must be ‘just up the road’. Suddenly, there they were in all their glory – The Flags of Remembrance. So breathtaking, so proud, so graceful and seemingly glowing in their new found home.
Parking my car, I headed towards the flags. There was hardly anyone near the flag line, only a group of five or so men standing beside a truck. The closer I walked, I began to get some strange looks. Arriving next to the gathering of what I thought were the only attendees, I was informed I had missed the ceremony. Some how wires had gotten crossed and the time had been given to me as 1 p.m with the event actually having ended around 12:30 p.m.
My heart sunk slightly, but I didn’t let it damper the duty I had been assigned. Quickly I learned the man I was speaking with was Cameron himself – the man behind the mission. I asked him kindly if I could take his photo. He agreed. The camera in my hands clicked away not realizing that the photo I had just taken would see me be awarded my first award in photojournalism.
As he stood in the foreground with the flags flying behind, I asked him why he was taking the flags down later in the month as they looked so good in the location I felt he should leave them up all year.
What he replied has stuck with me. He told me that as much as he would love to leave the flags up all year, it would take away from the ‘wow factor’ that is the Flags of Remembrance. People would become immune to seeing them as they drove by day after day, much in the same way they do other Canadian flags.
In that moment, seeing the maple leafs flip and flicker in the wind it was as if I had never been seen a Canadian flag fly before that day. It was the first time I had ever felt a sense of patriotism for my country. In that moment I was truly proud to be Canadian. It left a lasting impression on me I hope never fades.
Watching the flags, thoughts of my great uncles and great grandfathers who fought fearlessly in various wars and peace keeping missions crept into the forefront of my mind. I remembered what they had done for my family and our country on a day that wasn’t Remembrance Day for the first time in my 21 years of existence.
Returning to the Flags of Remembrance in 2015 for the full ceremony the belief that 2014 had been the pinnacle of my patriotism was strong. I couldn’t possibly feel anymore Canadian I joked. Once more I was wrong. As the bomber planes flew overhead, the pipe band pounded away and the horses strutted down the line – tears welled.
This year’s event struck a special chord in seeing the strong presence of first responders, firefighters and members of the RCMP present. Just as society can become immune to seeing a Canadian flag or falter in our lack of remembrance for our forefathers and what they fought for, so to can we fail to adequately honour our local heroes throughout the year.
As a society, we become immune to the hard work, long hours and danger these members of our community face on a daily basis in order for our community to be kept safe. To see our local heroes standing alongside the flag line on Saturday, once more I felt a surge in patriotism and proud to be not only Canadian but also a resident of Sylvan Lake.