When I ride through Nova Scotia’s beautiful forests or along its coastlines, I hear my Grand Mother’s voice at every turn saying proudly “There’s nothing in the rest of Canada that you won’t find in Nova Scotia, so there’s no need to ever leave it!”
With her family and community being the key to surviving the hard scrabble life faced throughout the depression era and World War II, she knew that with joy came pain and with life came death. United, We Share All.
In the attached photos we see tribute paid in New Brunswick, Ontario and Alberta by the membership of the Canadian Army Veterans Motorcycle Units as they pay respects to Constable Heidi Stevenson and all those killed in our nation’s worst mass shooting. At Fredericton’s J Division Hq I watched proudly as 2nd CAV Hq President Mike ‘Breacher’ Aube showed respects with Moncton’s Dunkirk Unit President Andy ‘Beast’ Arseneau, Bruce ‘BZ’ McCleod, Brian ‘Bluegrass’ Dorion, Ron ‘Shooter’ Surette, Larry ‘Cuddle Bear’ Curtis, Dave ‘Doc’ Dilworth and Brad ‘Tank’ White who’s two sons are serving RCMP Officers, Following social distancing Brian ‘Pipes’ McKinney played a fine bagpipe lament. London Ontario’s Division Hq for the RCMP had a floral arrangement placed by CAV National President Derrick ‘Maddawg’ McClinchey, CAV National Operations Officer Tom ‘T-Bone’ Johnston, Vicki ‘Lifesaver’ Neves, and Mike ‘Smokey’ Cashman in attendance while 1st CAV Formation President Ian ‘Prof’ Neves stood by proudly. Out west in Red Deer Alberta’s RCMP Hq , Mount Sorrel Unit laid a flower arrangement with a bugle call of Last Post and The Rouse alongside Steve Barb Proudler,Lynne Kenney, Drew Proudler, Adrian Wall, Pam Nacinovich, and Bill Nelson.
In the last month Nova Scotia has been suffering the injustice of lives being taken through a rare madman’s rampage and as too often by the more familiar loss of lives while in service to Canada. The iconic folk song “Farewell to Nova Scotia’s 3rd verse reflects the historic call from away forcing many to leave behind the beauty of Nova Scotia, for some to never return….
“The Drums they do beat and the war’s do alarm, The Captain calls I must Obey” ….
Collected in the late 1700’s along the north coast of the province, this unofficial anthem based on an ancient tune reminds all that military service and giving of yourself for others has for generations separated the Provinces most daring citizens from home. Times have not changed this reality.
Nova Scotia has a deep beauty, but is no stranger to trauma and tragedy. I’ll always remember my grandfather Regimental Sgt Major Daniel MacLellan MBE telling me with a ‘wee smile’ that when war was declared in 1939 it was in one way ‘a blessing as it gave them a few years in the sun from a life underground as coal miners’. WW 2 went through my family like a buzz saw as 7 of my fathers ‘Cane’ side served with 7 also serving on my mother’s side of the family.
From my Ontario relatives Pte Hartley Albert Elwood Hie died of wounds received during the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment assault on Mount Assoro, and lies buried in Agira War grave B. H.241. As a kid I asked too many questions about the war especially my mother’s ‘MacLellan/Munroe’ servicemen side. On our annual visits to Nova Scotia I’d pester my grandad trying to understand how his brother in law Sgt Clyde Alexander Munroe was killed on the first day of Operation Charnwood by a sniper of the 12Th SS during the Normandy assault on Caen France July 8th 1944. Clyde is buried in Beny-Sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery grave X1. E.3. ‘Papa’, the old RSM died young, he watched the war destroy his two remaining brothers in law as alcohol and the memories of so many deaths including the SS Slaughters of POWs from their Regiments at the Abbaye d’ Ardenne and the Chateau d’ Audrieu that murdered over 156 Canadians in cold blood. He would have understood deeply the horrible after effects of a murderous rampage. If he’d been alive for the recent horror of a mass shooting taking away 22 citizens in a blast of evil from Portapique to Enfield he’d have been furious. Had he known of the loss of a Navy Helicopter and a Snowbirds aircraft in the last month causing the death of 7 aircrew, he’d have understood that reality and yet he’d have been very proud of those who fell and on seeing the support and love created from that dark tragedy.
My mother’s people have known Nova Scotia as home for 6 generations, my daughter and grandkids lives there now. Our first ancestors knew hardship by first leaving Kirkcudbright Scotland in 1775 ‘fully prepared with fine cattle and fruit planting stock, everyone in the family wearing the finest woolens’ landing on St-John Island (now Prince Edward Island) and losing everything they planted to a scourge of mice after a rough season and soon after where raided by ‘Yankee privateers’ who ransacked their remaining supply’s. Trading the ‘fine cloths’ off their backs to Acadian and first nation folks also barely hanging on for seed stock that once again was planted, and for a second year destroyed by rodents. These early failures forcing a desperate and fortunate last move to Pictou County Nova Scotia. Every member of my family has a deep undying love of Nova Scotia’s beauty, its people and unique energy that has imbued our entire family as it has all Canadians who experience Nova Scotia and its people..
I’ve mentioned elsewhere in our Veterans Channel “Riding with Heroes” programming, in a perfect world the things our service people witness has a cost, one that we pay willingly. We’ve volunteered and learned from the best and are trained and prepared to face any Challenge. In uniform we must train for the worst, it physically prepares us and mentally- but not emotionally. We’re only human after all even though we often we go out of our way to prove different.
In times like this when our communities at home face terror of any kind, either by medical threat as with our present Viral pandemic or by civil insurrection or rioting as is occurring now, we who’ve worn uniforms know how traumatic life can be for us, even though trained and equipped- we fear the worst for those around us now untrained, or unprepared in any way when these horror’s strike.
We grieve the fact that you have to face this darkness. As far as the recent mass shooting words fail on describing what black void would create the evil that caused a murderous rampage across 100 km of the world’s most precious country. The loss on April 18-19 of 22 Nova Scotians in the Nation’s worst mass shooting, followed by the tragic air crash of April 29, taking the lives of HMCS Fredericton Cyclone helicopter crew of Captains Brenden Ian MacDonald, Captain Maxime Miron- Morin Captain Kevin Hagen Sub Lt Matthew Pike, Sub Lt Abbigail Cowbrough and Cpl Matthew Cousins into the sea off of Greece while conducting Naval Air operations. Then this month’s final shock of the death in the line of duty of Nova Scotian Captain Jenn Casey of the CF Snowbirds demonstration team on jettisoning from an aircraft after engine failure. The Snowbirds were literally deployed on a mission that she, and the team did best. To show our colours during a time of National threat. Operation Inspiration was to salute Canadians doing their part to fight the spread of covid -19. Dozens of families across Nova Scotia and Canada still feel the shock of time standing still. The feeling that life shouldn’t be going on without treasured souls.
To me as a veteran our country is full of family members, not only those related by blood- but family members of those who’ve shed their blood by my side. Having served beside thousands of those raised from coast to coast to coast I’ve known as brother and sister, often getting to know their families, I feel deep kinship. Our military is also a small family, its networks of those still serving and our veterans is strong. When the news spread that a Fleet Chopper ‘had gone in’, those of us who watched HMCS Fredericton deploy January 20 for 6 months with NATO Operation Reassurance from Fleet East Halifax, their aim to reinforce NATO’s Unity, we understood it could only be one of two flight crews aboard. In keeping with our Military’s family closeness, as families were notified, gathered, the mourning began. It was confirmed that in addition to 5 other great heroes taken that day, the pilot of Callsign ‘Stalker 22’ Captain Brenden Ian MacDonald, who we called “Big Mac”, had fallen in the line of duty with his entire crew. I met him thanks to Medric Cousineau founder of ‘Paws Fur Thought’ an incredible organization spearheading service dog support Nation-wide and Chris ‘Red’ Hatton an old Airborne soldier and one of the greatest riders I’ve known. Medric who understands more than most the horrid toll the sea can demand, was awarded the Star of Courage by Governor General Jeanne Sauve’ for willingly putting his life in danger the night of Oct 6, 1986 when he saved the lives of two American fisherman during a helicopter cable recue that saw him pitched into the sea twice before he scrambled aboard and effected to rescues under the most horrid conditions. Thanks to ‘Red’ who could always be found at ‘Big Mac’s side I had the honour of sharing riding adventures throughout Nova Scotia as I watched this young pilot raise his family, while supporting others, either one on one when needed or enmass at the Digby Wharf Rat Rally. Id turn around, and there’d be ‘Big Mac’. Strong, solid, calm, quiet but focused. Just as he was all those years flying our weathered Sea King Helicopters in harm’s way, the same way he would have been when flying off the coast of Greece..
I’ve seen with my own eyes the healing possible when tragedy strike’s our communities. Each citizen, Province and the Nation doing its best to help heal the wounds of pain and loss.. Nova Scotia has seen massive enlistments throughout history, once a call for help is raised its people have paid a heavy price in lives during each test. For generations they answered the call for War, NATO Cold War and Peacekeeping operations or as First Responders of every kind, have left this paradise in body but not in spirit. As recently as the Afghanistan conflict Canadians stood united as we mourned alongside the families who had paid the highest price for the freedom of the people of Afghanistan. Beginning with a Ramp Ceremony in theatre, with comrades bidding farewell before they returned to combat as each Hero is returned home. At 8 Wing in Trenton Ontario a grassroots energy began with thousands lining the repatriation area, along the highway itself or filling the overpasses and bridges offering silent tribute to the families enroute to each fallen soldier’s final resting place. I personally attended 150 of the 158 repatriations along the “Highway of Heroes”. I witnessed 75 in Trenton and 75 at Toronto’s Coroner’s office ceremony. As each soldier citizen from across Canada or Nova Scotian was returned from war zone to family, I’ve also seen over a decade of our nation doing its best to continue that heartfelt love and respect for the families of our injured and fallen, always sacred is remembrance of the sacrifice of our fallen Heroes.
Whether from a wars brutal cost, or the unexpected loss of innocents in a flash, the shock of the moment seems to stop time. As I’ve seen Canada respond during a time of war, I’ve also seen this shock eased by community in a time of trauma. Its inspiring to witness the energy as word spreads with the resulting support and love beginning to support the suffering. And as always, its humbling to see that love and support ongoing decades later.
A date no one involved will ever forget, January 29 1989 on ‘Exercise Brim-frost ‘at Ft Wainwright Alaska I was on duty hours after the regiment had deployed by Hercules aircraft from Pembroke’s Browns airfield enroute to the far north in support of cold War winter operations with our US Allies. I was the Regimental Duty Sergeant with Bob Carrol in the Canadian Airborne Regiment duty center answering the phone when Brig Gen Ian Douglas our SSF Commander called and in a deadpan voice said ‘Alert the Duty Officer, Of our 3 plane formation the second aircraft has crashed and I can confirm the following fatalities -WO Keith Arsenault, MCpl John MacKinnon, Cpl Robert Allen, Cpl Paul McGinnis,2RCHA Master Bombardier Donald Smith, 2RCHA Cpl Lee Wright, CFB Edmonton Lt Richard Moore, and Cpl Joseph Paul -Emile Castonguay,( days later in hospital MCpl Louis Papineau-Couture passed of his injuries. ) I’d jumped or soldiered with 6 of these soldiers for years before my own injuries put me in front of a phone. Each had left our sides only hours before the phone call, Keith Arsenault was a great guy I’d known for years whose last conversation with me as I rolled my wheelchair to rehab and he put on his helmet and rucksack and left for the airfield was ‘You lucky dog, now you’ve got time to learn a new language or to play the piano !!’
The horrid twist of this disaster came in the fact we’d already been acting on the deaths just hours before of 5 other members of the regiment’s 2 Commando, Cpl Keith Russell, Trooper Mark Cameron, Trooper Shawn Hillicker, Trooper Joseph Ross and Trooper Brian Thompson all who were killed instantly on collision with a transport truck.. The next 2 weeks we provided escorts, bearing party’s with Assisting Officers across Canada for many families, each family till this day mourning these tragedy’s yet each one able to recall the heartfelt support they needed at the worst of times. As with any loss, each life lost left massive voids in the lives of family’s and comrades of those taken, each life literally touching hundreds with terrible loss. Words will always fail. But Action, Empathy and the Basic Canadian spirit of simply supporting others at the best of times, and the worst of times will see us through. Stay tuned to the Veterans Channel for world class Veteran and still serving Military and First Responder programming detailing Heroism!!