Tiny pennants of patriotism, dozens of miniature Canadian flags flapped smartly in the cool breeze at Forest Home Cemetery in Ponoka on September 17, representing a nation’s pride and gratitude: it was once again the day of the decoration.
Each year, members of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #66 in Ponoka honor fallen soldiers who gave their lives in service to their country by decorating their headstones.
Legion member and event organizer Joanne Palechek said there was record attendance this year, with volunteers young and old.
Following the decoration ceremony at the cemetery, a Veterans Appreciation Luncheon was held at the Legion with several guest speakers.
Amid respect for the services of its members past and present, this year’s celebration was also colored with memories and tributes to the late Queen Elizabeth II, who died on September 8.
The Master of Ceremonies said Her Majesty’s memory will remain firmly in the hearts and minds of the Legion forever.
The Royal Canadian Legion has close ties to the monarchy. Queen Elizabeth herself was a veteran, having served as a driver and mechanic during World War II.
It was noted that in 1961, by Royal Consent, the prefix “Royal” was added before the name of the Canadian Legion.
MP for Lacombe-Ponoka and Culture Minister Ron Orr thanked the Legion for laying a wreath for the Queen and praised them for their efforts to follow proper protocol when transitioning to a new King.
Lawyer, former local MP, athlete, leader and former Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner, Dr. Wilton Littlechild is also a carded member of Branch No. 66, having been a member of the Ponoka Medical Core.
Among his many accomplishments and rich history, Littlechild also has the distinction of having been in the presence of Queen Elizabeth a total of six times in his lifetime.
The first time he met her, he was eight years old.
Then, at the age of 18, as a cadet in the Alberta Dragoons, he was part of the honor guard during his visit to British Columbia.
When she honored Canadian athletes who were invited to join her in Toronto, he was among them.
He was there when she paid tribute to the members of Parliament from Calgary, and he met her when he became a trustee of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and Her Majesty came to officially open the museum.
He wore a medal which was to commemorate the Queen’s 70 years of service – of which he says he was one of the first 25 recipients – on an occasional basis, as well as his headdress.
“Today being so special to honor veterans, I chose to wear both my headdress and the final medal in honor of Queen Elizabeth, and now of course we will bond with the King” , said Littlechild.
He added that King Charles is an honorary member of the Siksika Nation.
“Since leaving the medical nucleus here in Ponoka, I have been very busy. Thank you veterans for your service.
Greetings were also given by Ponoka County. Bryce Liddle and Ponoka Mayor Kevin Ferguson.
Ferguson said when the Queen was first sworn in as a young woman, she promised to serve the Commonwealth for the rest of her life.
“Beating in her chest was the heart of a matriarch… she never broke her promise to us,” Ferguson said.
The District Ladies Auxiliary Commander and local Ladies Auxiliary also spoke.
Ron Labrie, a social studies teacher at Ponoka High Campus and a longtime wartime memory advocate, gave an immersive presentation on the work of the Broncs World Tour Cenotaph Project.
Using videos, images and maps, Labrie demonstrated how 301 students in the class for 10 years researched local fallen soldiers and then traveled to Europe to read those stories about the gravesites of soldiers and the impact this has had on these students.
Labrie said he hopes the school will return to a full Memorial Day assembly this year and the Broncs world tour will continue into 2023.
Cyril Nerubenko, Division Officer of HMCS Nonsuch (a Naval Reserve Division located in Edmonton) and resident of Maskwacis, spoke about his recent stay in Ukraine helping refugees.
Nerubenko said the Canadian military is serving in Ukraine to support the country in its fight against invading Russia. He spoke of recently discovered mass graves believed to contain civilians. The bodies bear traces of torture.
The first time Nerubenko was deployed to Ukraine he was teaching combat teams and this last time he served as a translator in refugee camps in Poland. As he is from Ukraine, he speaks the language.
At the end of lunch, longtime member Dorothy Houghton received the Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) award. The Palm Leaf can only be awarded to a member who has previously received the MSM or Meritorious Service Award and recognizes additional outstanding service.
PonokaRoyal Canadian LegionVeterans