I have always said that Canada Day is my favourite day of the year. On this day as a Member of Parliament, I have the privilege of travelling all over the riding, waving the Canadian flag, visiting with members of the community and honouring our Veterans in thanks for their contribution to the greatest country in the world.
The day would typically start off in Columbus to watch the community’s youngest come together for a Canada Day tricycle parade. I would then head up to Port Perry for my favourite event with the annual Vets in Vettes Parade, followed by celebrations at Palmer Park. Down to Bowmanville for Clarington’s cake cutting festivities at the Bowmanville Museum, where I get to chat with families who are ensuring that the next generation of young Canadians understands the significance of this national holiday. Then it is off to the little treasure by Lake Ontario to participate in the events at Wilmot Creek, where you can’t help but feel immense Canadian pride at seeing so many Canadian flags waving from every home. The day is usually capped off by an incredible display of fireworks in Bowmanville and Oshawa. The day is also bookmarked by the day before or after, by my annual visits to all of the Long-Term Care and Seniors Residences, where it is my pleasure to visit our Veterans and seniors who are often shut-in and unable to get out for the celebrations. These visits are so meaningful for me as our country would not be the great country it is today without these individuals.
All of us had to celebrate Canada Day a little differently this year due to the pandemic, and many organizations and municipalities adapted and had virtual online celebrations.
The cancellation of many annual events was made up by one very special event. Many Durham residents may have seen the news stories written about local World War II Veteran, Mr. Armour Hanna. On Canada Day, he had his 100th birthday. Because a party was not possible due to the pandemic, a request for 100 birthday cards went out to the public. Family and friends felt that this wasn’t enough to celebrate this Veteran’s centennial birthday, so everyone banded together to give him a wonderful surprise: a flyby ceremony with two vintage Harvard aircraft in honour of his birthday at the Oshawa Airport. Hanna was brought to the airfield in a surprise visit and was visibly moved by the ceremony and the outpouring of love from his friends, family, and community on this special occasion. His story reminds me of a similar story from earlier this year. In March, Canadians from across the country, including myself, sent cards to World War II Veteran Fred Arsenault. Mr. Arsenault received tens of thousands of cards for his birthday — far surpassing his family’s hopes for 100 cards.
Seeing Hanna’s love for his country was a reminder of the importance for us all to celebrate and honour our Veterans and those who serve our country and community. These two card-drives have proven a great, yet simple way of doing this. I have written a lot about this topic over the years. A week after I was appointed the Minister of Veterans Affairs in 2015, I wrote about how my first official presentations as Minister were to local veterans in Wilmot Creek. Presenting a Bomber Command Bar and two World War II Victory pins then to local heroes, I have been privileged to attend or organize so many other commemorations of our veterans like that one in 2015, and like the one for Hanna. Such as the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands, the dedication of the Highway of Heroes Durham LAV Monument, and co-hosting the annual Sam Sharpe Breakfast which shines a light on veteran mental health; each of which have been highlights of my time in politics.
Veterans’ issues have always been so important to me throughout my career not only because I served myself, but because of the incredible sacrifices made by the servicemen and women of generations before us. It was the generation before us who fought against tyranny and oppression in the two world wars, fighting for the many rights and freedoms we enjoy today and often take for granted.
As we recognize the sacrifices made by the generations before us, we must also recognize the ongoing sacrifices made by our Canadian Armed Forces members who spent their Canada Day away from their families. Many of our CAF members assisted in working on the front-lines of this pandemic, in long-term care homes across our province, including in Durham. They may not have been fighting the battles of the Second World War, but they were battling a contemporary opponent in COVID-19. Similarly, our first responders and frontline healthcare workers have worked incredibly hard since this pandemic began. These great Canadians deserve our thanks. I think one of the best ways to celebrate Canada is to thank those who serve, build and honour our great country.
While this Canada Day was not ‘festivities-as-usual’, with no big crowds celebrating throughout the day in Palmer Park or watching fireworks together late into the night in the fields of the Rickard Complex, this Canada day was special. We don’t need to watch fireworks for inspiration when we can look around our own community to be inspired. Over the past few months Canadians have shown incredible spirit, generosity, and care. Together, Canadians have worked to flatten the curve. On Canada Day, and every day, let us be proud of our accomplishments; proud to be Canadian.
For more information on how you can write a letter of thanks to a Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) member, frontline healthcare worker, or first responder, please visit www.erinotoolemp.ca/thank-you.