Organized and arranged by Member of Parliament, Erin O'Toole, three events were rolled into an emotional and rewarding afternoon.
The first event was a presentation made by Lieutenant Colonel Martial de Reviers, a French liaison officer attached to the embassy in Ottawa. He made the trip to Port Perry to present the distinguished Order of the Legion of Honour award to four distinguished veterans of World War II. The medal is the highest honour France bestows on anyone, and is equal to our own Order of Canada. Since the award's inception in 1802, by Napoleon, several Canadians have been its recipients, including Billy Bishop, Jean Charest, and Celine Dion.
Last week's ceremony presented the Legion of Honour medals to those who served in the liberation of France, during World War II. The recipients were George Emmerson and Edward Groves of Port Perry, Arthur Elgar of Bowmanville and Louis Lyle of Hampton. Lt-Col de Reviers was introduced by MP Erin O'Toole and was elegant in his traditional presentation. Standing stately at well over six feet, de Reviers, addressed each veteran, awarded them the medal, took them by the shoulders and placed an emotional Faire la Bise (the art of the Parisian double air kiss) on each cheek.
It was a pleasure to chat with each one during the emotional event, and I realized the amazing impact Canadian soldiers had and continue to have on securing peace and freedom in many other countries.
The event also called for the presentation of Community Service awards to local residents who have given more to the community than was ever asked. The awards were presented jointly by MP Erin O'Toole and Scugog Mayor, Tom Rowett. The recipients were totally surprised and quite stunned as their names were called. Paul Arculus, Terry and Christine Vos, Tyler Briley, Joyce Kelly all of Port Perry, and Keith Mackay of Hampton, were the well deserving recipients of this prestigious local honour.
Erin O'Toole, a veteran himself, was our Minister of Veteran Affairs in the former government, but just because he no longer holds that title does not mean he has no interest in the well-being of Veterans. Several years ago he began an undertaking to restore Lt-Colonel Sam Sharpe's military existence back into the record books.
Sam Sharpe was a Member of Parliament for North Durham, as well as serving as town solicitor in Uxbridge. Born in Zephyr and a graduate from Osgoode Hall School of Law, he successfully ran in the 1908 election, and was re-elected in the victorious Conservative Party under Robert Borden in 1911. In 1915, soon after Britain declared war on Germany, Sharpe began recruiting friends from the area, and formed the 116th battalion.
He was a big believer that the war against the Kaiser was just and necessary for the security of Canada, and demonstrated excellent leadership skills, caring for the welfare of the troops under his command.
After being trained in England, the 116th was dispatched to the frontlines in France in early 1917. They witnessed their first action in Vimy Ridge a few months later. The battalion's next encounter was a raid on an important trench in Avion. Scrambling through bomb blasts, machine-gun fire and poisonous gas, the men of the 116th reached the German line and fought hand to hand combat. Nearly 200 Germans were killed or captured, and the battalion's reputation quickly circulated through the ranks of the British Army.
The 100 casualties within the unit hit Sharpe hard, especially as he had personally recruited many of the men. In October of 1917 the battalion fought at Passchendaele and Sharpe was re-elected to parliament in abstentia. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for gallantry under fire, but was hospitalized due to his growing stress from what was then known as shell-shock. Succumbing to his depression, Sharpe jumped to his death from a hospital window, soon after arriving in Montreal.
Sam Sharpe was all but erased from Canadian history. His portrait in the regiment office was taken down, and only in the official 'Book of Remembrance', kept in Ottawa's Peace Tower, was his name retained. Shell-shock was considered a weakness at the time.
Member of Parliament, Erin O'Toole, began a successful mission to resurrect the heroic leadership of Sam Sharpe. He co-founded the True Patriot Love Foundation as a support for military families and veterans, started the Sam Sharpe breakfast, held annually in Ottawa, to explore Veteran's Mental Health and Wellness, and recently commissioned Port Perry artist, Tyler Briley, to create a bronze sculpture of Lt-Col Sam Sharpe. The sculpture was unveiled at last week's event, and remained in our library for five days, before travelling to Ottawa where it is to receive a permanent resting place in the Parliament buildings.
The 200 lb. bronze sculpture is amazing, and captures the agonizing look of a broken hero, filled with despair. Tyler Briley out did himself when he created this legacy. After meeting him, I realized where this passion came from. Tyler, a firefighter, was injured on the job over twenty years ago. Faced with guilt about not being able to work and depression over all the suffering he had witnessed, he sank deep into a world of darkness. It was after many years of suffering and deteriorating health, that Tyler decided one day to retaliate. Forcing his diagnosed PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) into the background, he fought back against medication, pain and ailments to rise back to his former self.
The commission to create the Sharpe sculpture gave him purpose and a desire to survive, and survive he did. Tyler is currently training for a triathlon and at a fit, 165 lbs. is a much healthier version of his 400 lb. former self.
A few days ago I was humbled by being invited to the third annual Sam Sharpe breakfast in Ottawa. Held in the Parliamentary dining room in Canada's Peace Tower, it was a virtual who’s who of Canadian military. I had the pleasure of meeting such dignitaries as Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, retired General, former Senator and former commander of the UN forces in Rwanda, Brigadier-General MacKay who is the Commander Canadian Forces Health Services Group, Television personalities Michael Landsberg and Joe Tilly, the Minister of Veteran's affairs, Kent Hehr, local author Ted Barris, Kent Farndale, a driving force behind the creation of the sculpture and of course, Port Perry's own Tyler Briley.
Tilley spoke about the loss of his son, a member of the military who passed away by suicide, just over a year ago. Landsberg talked about living openly with his depression, and promoted his new website 'sicknotweak.org’, and Romeo Dallaire spoke about Wounded Warriors of Canada, a group formed to help CAF members (past and present) who have been wounded or injured in their service to Canada.
Dallaire himself has suffered from PTSD since his role as Force Commander for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda where he witnessed the country descend into chaos and genocide, leading to the deaths of more than 800,000 Rwandans.
Erin O'Toole did a superb job of hosting and organizing the event. Being a resident of Port Perry, I was honoured to witness our permanent place in history due to the efforts of many, and the artistic creation of our own Tyler Briley.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a photographer, author, columnist and key-note speaker. Follow his adventures at photosNtravel.com