Memorial statue unveiled at Kelowna airport
Through some of the most well-documented moments in the last 100 years, the B.C Dragoons served their country.
Despite their role in history shaping battles like Vimy, Passchendaele and the Somme, however, the Okanagan military contingent and their sacrifices aren’t common knowledge to many within the community they came from.
“Most don’t know much about our history,” said Retired Lt.-Col. Denis Cyr, who was among the B.C. Dragoons unveiling of a one-tonne marble statue, called Coming Home, that was presented to the city over the weekend, and brought to its final home Tuesday at the Kelowna airport.
It’s the Dragoons’ hope that the statue will help more people learn about the military contingent, Cyr said.
“Now everyone coming through the airport will see this,” Cyr said.
“They may not realize it represents the B.C. Dragoons, but they’ll realize people from this valley leave their families and jobs and deploy to where it’s required.”
Cyr came up with the idea to commission a statue that would sit in the arrivals area of the Kelowna airport just over a year ago, and its unveiling at the 100-year anniversary of the Dragoons offered cause for celebration among locals who keep the history of the military group that started as a calvary contingent a century ago.
The occasion was also witnessed by a few who may actually keep the work of the Dragoons closer to their hearts.
Several members of the 18-member Sister City delegation from Veendam, Holland, were on hand for the unveiling and they explained that the significance of Canada’s military is remembered well in their community.
“I was five-years-old, living with my parents, in the small village of Appingedam,” said Hans Oterdoom. “Our home backed into a factory with German soldiers.”
Canadians stormed through, bringing enforcements with them. In the bloody battle that ensued when they made contact with the Germans, Oterdoom said one soldier said a few words that meant nothing at the time, but have stuck with him ever since.
“He said, ‘Well, little boy, do you like chocolates?’” he recalled.
“I didn’t speak English, so I didn’t know what chocolates were.”
It was a simple enough gesture, but the stark contrast to what else was happening made it stand out.
Canada’s role in the rebuilding of Holland, in the months that followed, further raised this country’s profile.
In Veendam, for example, Okanagan soldiers stayed for nine months after the war ended, helping to rebuild the community and their time there is honoured year after year through various community bonds that have been built over time.
“For Canadians, it’s a chapter,” said Lenus Baauw, recognizing that the memories of the time aren’t kept in the same way for Canadians.
“For us, it’s books and books. If Canada hadn’t come to us, we wouldn’t be free.”