Portraits of Honour salutes fallen heroes

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Swift Current residents had an opportunity to pay tribute to Canada’s military members who made the ultimate sacrifice to our country while serving in Afghanistan during Monday’s Portraits of Honour Tour visit to the city.

Artist Dave Sopha created the mural to recognize the 157 Canadian soldiers, sailors and aircrew that have lost their lives while serving in Afghanistan, a total which includes 12 Saskatchewan fallen soldiers. But he pointed out that all of Canada’s military war dead are saluted in the touching 10 foot high by 40 foot long mural. The mural is painted on a background of 110,000 poppy petals, representing all of Canada’s fallen military, so that they are not forgotten.

“We’ve been on the road for over three months now, and it’s been overwhelming visiting all the communities and the people, and it truly does tell me that Canadians do honour our veterans,” Sopha said of the tour which began back on May 27

“People do have a lot of pride. We’re Canadian and we have pride in our military, but for a long time they weren’t showing it. They do have a heart for our fallen. And when you tell them that for every one that’s killed there, you can pretty well count on 10 that are coming back with physical or emotional injuries. A lot of people say they never realized that.”

The display, a joint initiative by artist Dave Sopha, Kin Canada and the Kin Canada Foundation, is raising funds for programs and charities that support the men and women who proudly serve in the Canadian Forces and their families. Swift Current’s stop generated $4,500 in support through cash donations and the proceeds of the barbecue at the mural’s viewing at Memorial Park.

Sopha said the idea for the mural came to him about two-and-a-half years ago when Canada recorded its 100th fatality in Afghanistan. The airbrush artist of 38 years said he was inspired to raise as much money as possible to help those coming home with lasting physical and emotional injuries.

“I felt compelled to do something for them. My brother’s son was over there for his third tour, and I heard about all the horrors of things that they witnessed on a daily basis over there, but I also heard about all the great things that our Canadian troops are doing over there.”

Sopha will remember Swift Current’s event as the first time a community showed their support during a parade through the city. He singled out the participation by members of the local cadets organizations and the Central School Choir for singing O’Canada and marching in the parade.

“You are the first ones that has this kind of a parade,” he said. “We’ve had all kinds of police escorts and RCMP and firefighters, but when you see kids, that makes it really special. They are the ones that are going to remember for many, many years. Today’s been wonderful.”

Members of the Kinsmen and Kinette Clubs of Swift Current volunteered their time to organize the local stop and provide manpower for a fundraising barbecue running in conjunction with the tour.

Swift Current Kinette member Bonnie Moon, one of the organizers of Monday’s tour stop, was pleased with the support they received from the community. She was also touched by the emotions of the day and having a chance to meet relatives of soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“These young people went over and fought for us to have the freedoms we have here. They’ve died for us, and that’s the ultimate price to pay for us. And I think everybody needs to take a few minutes just to think and remember them.”

The event also showcased what the Kinsmen and Kinettes mean for the country as the largest all-Canadian service club organization.

“Kin has got a very strong spirit across Canada in helping their committee, and it’s perfectly fitting for them to want to help the Canadian military families of these fallen soldiers,” Moon said. “That’s basically what Kin is all about, helping people who need it, and those military families need to know that we really do care about them.”

Moon, who has served as a Lieutenant for the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets and Navy League Cadets, said the mural was also impactful because of her involvement as a cadet leader.

“We’re not training them to be in the military, we’re just giving them some traditions and ideas of the military and teaching them respect. To be a citizen we need to respect one other and we need to have respect for our country and be grateful for what we have here. It doesn’t come at a cheap price. It was a very, very dear price that we paid to have the freedoms that we have here today.”

The Royal Canadian Sea Cadets and Royal Canadian Air Cadets both parade at the Rec. Centre on Wednesday nights. This is the first year the two groups meet in the same facility on the same night, with the Navy League (aged 9 to 13) and Sea Cadets (age 12 to 19) starting at 6 p.m., with the Air Cadets (age 12 to 19) beginning at 7 p.m. in their shared facility.

Additional information on the Portraits of Honour Tour can visit www.portraitsofhonour.ca.

Organizations: Kin Canada Foundation, Canadian Forces

Geographic location: Canada, Swift Current, Afghanistan Saskatchewan

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