The service and sacrifice of Canadian men and women who served in Afghanistan will be perpetually commemorated by an oak tree and an Inukshuk on the lawn at Legion House in Kanata, Ont.
The tree was ceremonially planted on Sept. 10 by Dominion President Pat Varga and General Walter Natynczyk, the chief of defence staff, on the building’s front lawn, now known as the Memorial Garden. The Central Band of the Canadian Forces played while members of Dominion Executive Council (DEC), local politicians and invited guests took their seats on the lawn. Not far off is the tree planted last year by Princess Margriet of the Netherlands to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the liberation.
“The oak is a tree that stands strong and tall as our men and women stood strong and tall while serving in Afghanistan,” said Natynczyk.
“Words are not enough to show our appreciation. We hope these symbols will show Afghanistan veterans that we thank them for the work they have done,” said Varga.
They were assisted in the ceremony by the commanders of the three branches of the Canadian Forces, Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison of the Royal Canadian Navy, Lieutenant-General Peter Devlin of the Canadian Army and Lt.-Gen. André Deschamps of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Chief Superintendent Barb Fleury of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Dominion First Vice Gordon Moore also assisted in the ceremony.
A plaque at the base of the tree reads, in both official languages: “Dedicated to the men and women of the Canadian Forces who served with distinction in Afghanistan.”
Following the tree planting, Varga and Natynczyk joined Claire and Richard Léger in unveiling the Inukshuk. The Légers’ son, Sergeant Marc Léger of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, was one of four Canadians killed in Afghanistan in a friendly fire incident at Tarnack Farms on April 18, 2002. Claire Léger was the national Silver Cross mother in 2005.
The Inukshuk, a vaguely human-shaped stone cairn in Inuit tradition often used for showing travellers direction, was built by Richard Léger. It is a replica of one currently standing at Kandahar Airfield erected in 2002 in honour of those killed at Tarnack Farms. It had been in the front yard of the Légers’ home in nearby Stittsville for several years, but has been donated for permanent display at Legion House.
The inscription on a plaque in front of the Inukshuk says, simply, “In honour of Canada’s fallen in Afghanistan.”
A simple remembrance service followed with Varga and Natynczyk placing a wreath at the foot of the Inukshuk.
The ceremony took place during a break in a day-long meeting of DEC. Prior to the outdoor event, Grand President Larry Murray installed Natynczyk as an honorary dominion vice-president, an honour which is reserved for the chief of defence staff, the commissioner of the RCMP, and the Legion’s godson, Prince Floris of the Netherlands.
“It is with great honour that I accept this appointment on behalf of all the men and women in uniform whom you support,” Natynczyk told the members of DEC. “I remember my first experience with the Legion when I was 16. We were at Rocky Mountain House in Alberta when snow closed the highway. So my first experience with the Legion was sleeping there—on a cot.”
The general told DEC about being in Halifax to greet Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Charlottetown when it returned from its assignment in support of the civilians in Libya. “A rocket had been fired on them which landed about 1,000 feet astern of the ship. It was the first time that a Canadian ship had been fired upon since the Korean War,” said Natynczyk.
He said he had also visited 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron which had flown missions over Libya. “It was the same Alouette Squadron which once flew from North Africa, setting its sights on Mount Etna and bombing Italy that was now flying from Sicily, bombing North Africa and setting its sites on Mount Etna to return home.”
Following the outdoor service, guests were invited into Legion House where they were able to view paintings from the Canadian Forces Artists Program. The Directorate of History and Heritage donated three paintings for permanent display at Legion House and other works were temporarily on display.