Agassiz’s Memorial Hall, now the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #32. Note Mount Cheam in the background. (Agassiz-Harrison Historical Society)

HISTORY: Honouring and remembering those who served our country

Columnist Lindsay Foreman shares her own family history with Remembrance Day

By Lindsay Foreman

Each Nov. 11, we set aside time to honour and remember all who have served for our country, allowing it to stand and remain the strong nation it is today.

However, each person’s experiences, traditions and rituals of remembrance greatly differ; they are extremely emotional and personal. How have you celebrated Remembrance Day in the past? How will you be commemorating it this Nov. 11?

My mother’s father, Thomas Henry “Harry” Blong, was a Bren Gun Carrier (also known as a Universal Carrier, a light armoured tracked vehicle) operator during World War II.

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I don’t remember all the details of his service, but he did spend quite a bit of time in Holland and Belgium. He returned home safely to Canada and my grandmother in the mid-1940s, uprooting her and their eldest child to Trenton, Ontario, where he worked as a carpenter building homes for the Royal Canadian Air Force Base.

They remained in Trenton (where they proceeded to add three more children to their family) until the mid-1950s, when they returned to the Niagara region of Ontario, and acquired a veteran’s home in Thorold.They raised their family, which included six children, in this home, remaining there until my grandmother passed away in 2008.

My grandfather loved children, and being the youngest grandchild, I received much of his attention. I adored him and the games he used to play with us, forgiving him for always “watching” the news channel (i.e., you had to read the news as it scrolled from screen-to-screen) when there was something better on. I also remember the deafening volume of the TV when he watched his favourite shows, including Lawrence Welk, and how he always fiddled with his hearing aids when he had them in — which was a rare occasion. I realize now that the lack of hearing protection available during World War II resulted in my Papa’s deafness.

Agassiz’s Memorial Hall and Cenotaph, circa 1942. (Agassiz-Harrison Historical Society)

Papa was a proud Legion member, and each fall, he would pick up his envelope of poppies, which he purchased for our entire family. I never thought about it until now, but he would have received between 20 and 30 poppies each year.

He also took the time to pin both mine and my sister’s poppies, sharing a little bit about his service and how the funds from the poppy drive helped veterans of all ages. So each year, I think of my Papa, Harry Blong, when I purchase and pin my poppy to my coat.

Searching through the photo archives at the Agassiz-Harrison Museum, I found a number of different photos of our own Memorial Hall, now the home of Royal Canadian Legion Branch #32. Mount Cheam stands tall in the background of many of these photos, while the community’s cenotaph was previously situated in front of the hall. The cenotaph is now located at the intersection of Morrow and Vimy Roads.

Armistice Day in Agassiz, 1964. Note Municipal Hall in the background. (Agassiz-Harrison Historical Society)

Many of our community members continue to gather on the morning of Nov. 11, as they did in this photo from 1964. The cenotaph is viewed from the front of Memorial Hall looking west towards Cheam Avenue and Municipal Hall. Imagine the traffic that would have to be stopped to allow a similar ceremony to be recreated today.

On Saturday, Nov. 9 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Agassiz-Harrison Museum will be hosting a Remembrance Day Heritage Hometown Heroes event. Stop by to learn about and honour our community members who were in the military service. Come and view our military exhibit and explore our soldier archives. Share your family’s experiences about past wars and Canadian peace-keeping missions, and your Remembrance Day traditions. We look forward to seeing you!

-Lindsay Foreman is the manager and curator at the Agassiz-Harrison Museum


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