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Remembrance In Thunder Bay

North side, south side, Port Arthur, Fort William; for close on two centuries a spirited rivalry has existed between the citizens of the area that is now the city of Thunder Bay, Ont., snuggled on the northwest shore of Lake Superior. Depending on your perspective, the city is the western end of the Great Lakes in Canada or the gateway to the St. Lawrence Seaway in the east. But if there is one thing upon which residents agree—regardless of which part of the city they live in, their race or ethnic background, age or generation—it is the importance of remembrance, witnessed in small acts and grand gestures during the Remembrance Day period.
Port Arthur and Polish Combatants Branch members salute. [PHOTO: SHARON ADAMS]

Port Arthur and Polish Combatants Branch members salute.
PHOTO: SHARON ADAMS

North side, south side, Port Arthur, Fort William; for close on two centuries a spirited rivalry has existed between the citizens of the area that is now the city of Thunder Bay, Ont., snuggled on the northwest shore of Lake Superior. Depending on your perspective, the city is the western end of the Great Lakes in Canada or the gateway to the St. Lawrence Seaway in the east.

But if there is one thing upon which residents agree—regardless of which part of the city they live in, their race or ethnic background, age or generation—it is the importance of remembrance, witnessed in small acts and grand gestures during the Remembrance Day period.

Andrew Dolph, Julie Stachiw and Jim Dolph. [PHOTO: SHARON ADAMS]

Andrew Dolph, Julie Stachiw and Jim Dolph.
PHOTO: SHARON ADAMS

It is seen Nov. 10 when a middle-aged couple brave the freezing rain icing up the majestic cottonwoods and pathways in Waverly Park to perform the age-old gestures of a First Nations smudging ceremony, a private remembrance at the foot of the cenotaph. It is seen in free transit services offered on Remembrance Day to veterans and their immediate families and anyone in military or cadet uniform; and in the three formal ceremonies, indoors at Fort William Gardens on the south side, outdoors at the cenotaph at Waverly Park in the north, and the Fort William First Nation service on Mount McKay.

Perhaps most of all, it is seen in the number of children attending the ceremonies, fewer, admittedly, than when whole classes are bused in during the school week, but still liberally sprinkled through the crowd of about 2,000 at Waverly Park on an unexpectedly balmy Sunday morning.

Young cadets take part in the service. [PHOTO: SHARON ADAMS]

Young cadets take part in the service.
PHOTO: SHARON ADAMS

“Remembrance Day is special because we can remember our great-grandpas,” said Cody Dysevick, who accompanied older sister Megan, his mom Chrissie Dysevick and aunt Rhonda Turner-Kavcar to the ceremony. “It’s important for our  kids to understand the sacrifices made so they can have the freedoms that they have,” says his mother, whose grandfathers Robert John Turner and Gordon Garvie both served during the Second World War.

And what better way for children of any age to learn than through experiencing the ritual of remembrance, mingling with older generations and listening to their stories?

Sgt. Josh Jensen and veteran Bob Hughes meet. [PHOTO: SHARON ADAMS]

Sgt. Josh Jensen and veteran Bob Hughes meet.
PHOTO: SHARON ADAMS

It begins with the ceremony itself: sentries standing so still for so long at the cenotaph; marching in of the veterans and serving members of the Canadian Forces in their varied and splendid uniforms; placing of wreaths by dignitaries, community groups and Silver Cross Mother Caroline McMinn, who lost her husband Alvin Boyer in Italy in the Second World War. Also placing wreaths were Cory Pollock, chairman of the Remembrance Day service for the city’s north side, and Port Arthur Branch President Robert Cutbush. Children were silent, wide-eyed, during the Last Post, the silence, rouse, remaining respectful even during the flypast and a thundering salute by a Lake Superior Scottish Regiment firing party.

Then follows a memorial service at St. Paul’s United Church, featuring addresses by sea cadets Shawna Mehagan and Trevor Kavalchuck, who in April visited the grave of a soldier killed April 12, 1917, at Vimy Ridge. “How can you say thank you to someone you’ve never met and never will meet?” asked Kavalchuck. The soldier, Bernard Henry Hudson, was a 34-year old private with the Canadian Machine Gun Corps, who hailed from Winnipeg and is buried at Nine Elms Military Cemetery near Thélus, France. “I sat in front of his grave and shed tears as I became one with a man I had never met and will never have the opportunity to fully understand.”

Sisters Rhonda Turner-Kavcar (left) and Chrissie Dysevick bring Megan and Cody to the service. [PHOTO: SHARON ADAMS]

Sisters Rhonda Turner-Kavcar (left) and Chrissie Dysevick bring Megan and Cody to the service.
PHOTO: SHARON ADAMS

The Legion’s Port Arthur Branch provided more opportunities to mingle beginning with the annual Silver Cross Mother’s luncheon and an afternoon dance and social that segued into a chinwag lasting into the evening.

Here many members of the Canadian Forces who took part in or attended the ceremony might chance to meet Second World War veterans like Ernie Takalo, one of 127 survivors plucked from the water off the coast of France after His Majesty’s Canadian Ship Athabaskan was sunk by U-boat torpedoes April 29, 1944. He was among the lucky 44 rescued by HMCS Haida; another 83 were picked up by enemy forces and became prisoners of war. The remainder of the crew of roughly 250 died either in the explosion or in the frigid water.

There is an instant bond formed when 25-year-old Afghanistan veteran Sergeant Josh Jensen of the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment and 91-year-old Second World War veteran Bob Hughes shake hands at the branch social. Hughes was a navy gunner assigned protection duty aboard a half dozen merchant ships while Jensen had his first taste of life in the forces training with a reserve unit in high school.

Silver Cross Mother Caroline McMinn places a wreath aided by Roy Lamore, Past President of Port Arthur Branch. [PHOTO: SHARON ADAMS]

Silver Cross Mother Caroline McMinn places a wreath aided by Roy Lamore, Past President of Port Arthur Branch.
PHOTO: SHARON ADAMS

Both talk of remembering comrades who did not return from battle, worrying about those who returned wounded, and enjoying the simple pleasure of the company of comrades.

Their chat erases the boundaries of age and generation, binding them in an ordinary, everyday act of remembrance, one without pomp and ceremony, but of no less reverence and importance.

Email the writer at: writer@legionmagazine.com

Email a letter to the editor at: letters@legionmagazine.com


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