BY JENNA SWAN
Courtesy of the Sylvan Lake News
It all started 10 years ago. He was a man with a video camera and an understanding of the importance of veteran documentation.
Allan Cameron, founding executive director of Veterans Voices of Canada, knew if someone didn’t document the stories veterans had to tell they would be lost forever. He has since documented over 1,100 veterans.
Fast forward a decade from those initial interviews and Cameron has since built an extensive network of veterans and support groups spreading throughout all corners of Canada, as well as having created one of the most patriotic events in the country – Flags of Remembrance.
Nearly two years ago in October of 2014, Cameron and a group of dedicated volunteers gave the flags a local launch alongside Hwy. 11. The initial 128 flags lined the southern side of the roadway, wowing everyone who came across the spectacularly Canadian sight.
Word soon spread across the country of what Cameron and his team had done outside of Sylvan Lake. The executive director found his phone began to ring in the months following the first Flags of Remembrance – individuals and organizations in various communities across Canada were asking how they could get involved.
In 2015, five communities including Sylvan Lake, Ponoka, Vernon, Charlottetown and Kingston hosted Flags of Remembrance ceremonies with each of the flag unfurling ceremonies taking place in unison. Last year also saw the number of flags double in Sylvan Lake from 128 to 256, lining both sides of the highway creating an even more breathtaking tribute.
Again in 2016 the number of communities participating has nearly doubled with nine communities in total taking part. Sylvan Lake, Edson, Ponoka, Okanagon Valley, Kingston, Ottawa, Riverview, Charlottetown and also Cameron’s hometown of Sydney, Nova Scotia will all be holding their flag ceremonies simultaneously this year.
Cameron, who has called Sylvan Lake home for the past 10 years, explained it has always been a dream of his to bring Flags of Remembrance to Sydney.
“It’s my hometown. My family is there, a lot of people I grew up with are there and many of the veterans I know are there,” explained Cameron. “It’s just a matter of bringing it back to my roots. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Perhaps one of the most memorable moments for Cameron at this year’s Flags of Remembrance will be the attendance of his mother, Velma Walker who resides in Sydney and has only ever seen photos and video of the Flags of Remembrance.
Walker was the first sponsor of a hero plaque and flag for the Sydney Flags of Remembrance and will be paying tribute to her uncle, Ernie Hill, a D-Day veteran who was killed on July 25th, 1944.
“When I told her I was doing this the first thing she said was, ‘Can I do this for Ernie?’ and I said of course you can,” said Cameron. “She tells the story of how he and her were buddies. She might have been five-years-old when he went off to war. She can remember seeing him walking down the driveway and turning to wave with all his army gear on. That’s the last time she saw him.
“The fact she is going to see his name with the hero plaque on the flag pole at opening ceremonies is going to be pretty cool. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most this year is having a photo taken with my mom at opening ceremonies – it will be a moment for us both I’m sure.”
Following the first Flags of Remembrance held in 2014, Cameron fielded phone calls asking how flags could be sponsored next year. While he thought this was wonderful, he wanted to be able to give both sponsors and veterans more. From this notion, the hero plaques were born.
“It’s a remembrance initiative so aside from the event itself, what better way to give remembrance to their own hero than by commemorating them on a hero plaque?” he explained, adding after the event sponsors are presented with not only the hero plaque they sponsored, but also the flag which flew above it during the ceremony.
This year Veterans Voices of Canada is spreading a special message to friends and families of RCMP members in regards to hero plaques and flag sponsorship.
“Because RCMP fall under veteran recognition with Veterans Affairs of Canada, this year we are really encouraging people to take advantage of the opportunity to give tribute and honour to their RCMP member on the hero plaques,” said Cameron adding ultimately the person sponsoring the plaque can put any name they’d like on it. “If they don’t have a veteran they wish to honour, we can certainly help them out as we have the names of many local veterans and fallen heroes who deserve recognition and we can make that happen no problem.”
He added he is also thrilled to see Flags of Remembrance making its way to Ottawa in 2016.
“To have the chance this year to be able to do Flags of Remembrance in our nation’s capital is going to give us a lot of the recognition we need to keep growing so we can get more people seeing this happen and have more people understand why it is importance to not just remember our veterans in October and November but all year round,” he said.
Cameron, on behalf of Veterans Voices of Canada wishes to thank the many volunteers and sponsors who have helped to make Flags of Remembrance such a successful initiative. He hopes to continue to see the flags spread to more and more communities each year and reach as many Canadians as possible, adding without the help of sponsors and volunteers this wouldn’t be possible.
In each location half of the funds raised from the sponsorship of flags and hero plaques returns to a local organization, in Sylvan Lake that organization is Veterans Voices of Canada to ensure the organization is able to continue the journey of veteran documentation.
Those wishing to honour a hero with the sponsorship of a plaque and flag are invited to contact Allan Cameron by phoning 403-887-7114 or by emailing him through firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for sponsorship is set for Aug. 19th with the minimum donation of $200 per sponsored flag requested.