Seeking recognition for our uniformed men and women

By Fred Petrie

How many of us know this is the 400th anniversary of military activity in Manitoba? It began with Admiral Sir Thomas Button, an explorer, officer and navigator of England’s Royal Navy. In 1612–13, Sir Thomas led an expedition commanding the Resolution and the Discovery, to locate the explorer, Henry Hudson, and to map and navigate the Northwest Passage.

Sir Thomas was the first European to set foot on land which is now Western Canada. He explored and secured the west coast of Hudson Bay and is credited with being the discoverer of the land west of the bay, which he claimed for King James of England and raised the symbolic cross of title at the Nelson River. He named the land New Wales, now known as Manitoba.

I recently had the opportunity to join the Military Heritage of Manitoba tour of the four military museums of western Manitoba, located in the Brandon region. MHM was created a year ago to honour and recognize the men and women in uniform in this province, and operates under an executive committee composed of an impressive panel of business leaders.

MHM stages and assists in co-ordinating events that publicly celebrate the service and sacrifice of our military personnel, be it in overseas missions or here at home in times of flood, fires, ice storms or search and rescue missions. In defining its role, the company consulted with all 35 military and security units within the province. Its work is supported by community, business, government and military personnel.

The social and economic contribution of the military in the province is significant and includes the regular and reserve components of the navy, army and air force, and notably the RCMP and the police forces. Some 1,000 Manitoba-based soldiers have served in Afghanistan. The MHM welcomes the troops home and thanks them for their dedication and service. Seven troops have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Our west Manitoba tour  started with a Beaver Coach bus ride from Winnipeg that  arrived at 10:40 a.m.at the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum, located at Brandon Municipal Airport, 1.6 km north of Brandon. A historic plaque outside the museum describes the tremendous war effort that was accomplished by the Commonwealth air training operation, which trained 136,849 aviators, pilots, navigators, gunners and wireless operators, mostly young men in their early 20s or late teens, who were to take the war to the Nazis.

The plaque records that on Dec. 17, 1939, an agreement was signed by Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand making Canada the focus of the Commonwealth-wide plan.   At the plan’s peak, there were 107 schools and 184 ancillary units at 231 sites in nine provinces. The plan was deemed a major contribution to Allied air superiority in the Second World War. It continued until March 31, 1945.

The museum is located in the former BCATP Hangar #1 and commemorates the training plan’s history and artefacts, along with the Harvard and Hurricane and other vintage aircraft.

We departed, after an all too brief two hours for the Brandon Armoury, an historic building dating from 1908 on Victoria Street. Brandon Armoury, built in 2908, has been home to many distinguished units over its century of service, serving also as the headquarters of the RCMP until 1923 when  it moved to Regina.

Brandon Armoury is home today to two museums, honouring the 26 Field Regiment Royal Canadian Artillery and the XII Manitoba Dragoons. The city of Brandon is currently planning a new memorial park  across the southeast corner of the Armoury.

The final stop on a full day was the Royal Canadian Artillery Museum at CFB Shilo. This museum has a very impressive collection as it is a national museum, funded as part of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

The MHM is planning further tours to teach Manitobans more about our military heritage. One exciting possibility looming is a visit to Churchill in late August where the icebreaker CCGS Radisson and the frigate HMCS St. John’s are expected.

Raymond McFeetors of Great-West Life is chairman of the young company, with Jim Burns of Power Corporation and Andrew Paterson, of Paterson Global Foods, vice chairmen; Bob Vandewater of CIBC/Wood Gundy,  treasurer and Gary Solar, secretary. All are honorary or former colonels.

To contact the Brandon area museums:
BCATP MUSEUM:  Summer hours (May to September, inclusive ) 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. E-mail: airmuseum@inetlink.ca.
26 Field Regiment Museum: www.26fdregmuseum.com.
XII Manitoba Dragoons: www.12mbdragoons.com.
Royal Canadian Artillery Museum, at Canadian Forces Base Shilo.  www.rcamuseum.com

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