One Day in Canadian Military History

On August 19th, hundreds of people gathered in Bowmanville in a park adjacent to the Highway 401 to dedicate the Highway of Heroes Durham LAV Monument. The Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV) at the centre of this monument is the iconic Canadian-built vehicle used by Canadian soldiers during Canada’s 13- year mission in Afghanistan. The monument also includes flags, an area for reflection and five educational panels that tell the story of the Afghanistan mission, the Highway of Heroes, the proud history of Durham’s Ontario Regiment and a special panel honouring the memory of Trooper Darryl Caswell from Bowmanville. I encourage everyone to visit this special monument.

The Highway of Heroes Durham LAV Monument on August 19th, 2017.
The Highway of Heroes Durham LAV Monument on August 19th, 2017.

The date of the dedication was also a very poignant day in Canadian military history and showed that Canada, and its people, have always stepped forward to serve alongside our allies and in support of the values of freedom and liberty from the earliest days of our country. Residents of the Durham Region and our Ontario Regiment have been part of this history of service and it is up to our community to recognize this part of our history.

August 19th marked 100 years to the day when tens of thousands of Canadians were fighting in the Battle of Hill 70 during The Great War. While largely overshadowed by the tremendous victory at Vimy Ridge a few months earlier, Hill 70 stands as possibly the greatest Canadian triumph ever. Canadians achieved an objective that other countries had failed to take, but unlike Vimy, Hill 70 was entirely planned and led by Canadians. The Ontario Regiment, then fighting as the 116th Battalion, fought at Hill 70. Almost one thousand men from Durham Region served in the 116th and most served at Hill 70. To put that into perspective, the population of Port Perry at the time was in the range of 1000 people and 63 of them were enlisted in the 116th. In fact, the Member of Parliament for part of Durham (then the Ontario North riding) LCol. Sam Sharpe led the 116th Battalion that day.

August 19th also marked 75 years to the day that Canadians fought at the Battle of Dieppe. 5000 Canadians landed on the pebbled beaches at Dieppe in a raid that was unsuccessful in reaching its objectives, but led to important learnings for the D-day landings years later. Terrible casualties were taken by Canadians that day and hundreds of Canadians were taken prisoner. There were also remarkable acts of heroism in this failed attack, including three Victoria Crosses (VC). One of the VC recipients was Reverend John Foote, padre for the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, who bravely helped injured men on the beach constantly exposing himself to heavy fire of the Germans. Foote refused evacuation and volunteered to be taken prisoner to continue to help his men. After the war, Foote served as the Member of Provincial Parliament for Durham for 11 years.

August 19th also marked a dark day in Afghanistan ten years earlier when Simon Longtin, a 23 year-old soldier from the Royal 22nd Regiment (the VanDoos) was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. He became the sixty-seventh casualty of the Afghan mission and his death came only a few months after we lost Durham’s Darryl Caswell.

August 19th is a stark reminder of the heavy cost of war and I spoke of all of these important memories at our dedication ceremony. The history of this day also shows that generations of Canadians have heeded the call of service and our communities have always been part of this effort. In fact, the Ontario Regiment and its predecessor units have a history that is older than the country itself.

The immortal words of the Great War poem In Flanders Fields end with a call to action urging our generation to hold the torch high so as not to “break faith with us who die”. To me, the torch symbolizes remembrance and our duty to honour and remember the service and sacrifice of those who serve on our behalf. As a politician I always keep this in mind whenever it comes to decisions about our military and about the support we give to uniformed services. I am also proud that our community is so deeply committed to remembrance. From the volunteers and business sponsors who organized this monument, to the cadets and Legion members who participated in the dedication ceremony, we should all be proud that Durham has established a national monument to educate Canadians about the Afghanistan War and ensure that we live up to our commitment to remember.