Portraits of Honour will support families of fallen soldiers

Red Deerians will soon have the opportunity to take part in a powerful means of honouring Canadian soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan while supporting a terrific cause in their memory.

It’s all part of the ‘Portraits of Honour’ initiative which was spearheaded by Ontario artist Dave Sopha. In late 2008, he decided to dedicate the next few years of his life to honouring every fallen soldier through a mural he calls ‘Portraits of Honour’.

The enormous mural features the faces of the 157 Canadian soldiers, sailors and aircrew who have lost their lives while serving in Afghanistan.

Since he started in December of 2008, Sopha has painted an average of 16 hours per day, seven days a week. He also partnered with Kin Canada in essentially helping to take the project to a national level.

When some folks in Red Deer learned of the Portraits of Honour project, they knew it was a ‘must’ to get involved, said Ray McBeth, co-chair of the Red Deer Tour Stop Committee along with Ron Woodward and Myles Peake. Former Red Deer MP Bob Mills was also brought onboard, as was Jim McPherson.

McBeth said Red Deer Kinsmen were notified of the project and there was immediate interest. And that excitement has spread throughout the community. Service groups, individuals and local schools have also indicated they’d like to be involved with the project as well.

McBeth expects between 5,000 and 10,000 school children to view the Portraits of Honour during its Red Deer stop.

“We wanted to take this event and turn it into something where we could really grab the hearts of Central Albertans.”

On Sept. 16, a private regimental dinner (now sold out) with General Rick Hillier (retired) will be held in Red Deer. The public will also have the chance to view Portraits of Honour on Sept. 16-17 at Red Deer College where it will be displayed from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. both days. Folks will be encouraged to make a donation in memory of the fallen heroes as well.

Also, in collaboration with the Canadian Armed Forces, RCMP, Central Alberta service clubs and private and corporate donors, there will also be a ‘Highway of Heroes’ set up along College Blvd. at RDC.

Canadian flags will be set up in honour of each fallen hero. People can sponsor a single flag for $750 which will be placed along the Highway of Heroes leading to the Portraits of Honour.

So far, about half the flags have been sponsored by local service clubs, corporations and individuals.

Ultimately, it promises to be a very meaningful day for all involved, and the site of the Canadian flags lining the road to the display will be extraordinary, he said. “Overall, this is probably one of the biggest things we’ve undertaken in a long time.”

The goal is to raise $150,000 through the initiative, he said. Of that amount, $100,000 will be directed to the national fundraising drive for families of fallen soldiers.

The remaining $50,000 will be given to the Red Deer & District Community Foundation to form a scholarship endowment for military families.

“It’s really crucial for the public to understand that a significant portion of what we raise stays in Central Alberta,” said McBeth, emphasizing that of course it’s an honour to support the national initiative as well.

He’s also proud of how the local committee and others in the community have banded together and worked so hard in helping bring the event to fruition. Their example is being noticed by other nation-wide who are planning Portraits of Honour tour stops of their own.

“We are kind of leading the charge clear across Canada,” he said, adding that other communities are calling and asking for advice in how Red Deer has put together the September event.

For more information about Portraits of Honour, and details on ways to support the project, check out www.portraitsofhonour.ca or call Ray McBeth at 403-350-9494 or Ron Woodward at 403-391-6262.