Ottawa Citizen

A BRIDGE TO THE PAST

- LINDA MONDOUX

Lately, it seems not a week goes by that the suppertime news doesn’t include film footage of another coffin draped with our Maple Leaf flag returning home from Afghanista­n. Even schoolchil­dren are now all too familiar with the placename Kandahar and the term “ war on terror,” the new battle of the 21st century.

But what happens when the fighting stops, or the battle goes on so long that we no longer pay attention? And what of previous missions? Will we remember the brave men and women who fought — and held the peace — for freedom?

Mafeking. Festubert. Falaise. Hill 355. These are just some of the places where Canadians have made history. Add to that the Persian Gulf. The Balkans. Somalia. Canadians were there, too. And after Afghanista­n, what next?

War. Peace. A future uncertain. There is much to learn. And many questions to ask.

The Royal Canadian Legion’s “ Valour Bridge” project will help us do just that.

There are an amazing 680 bridges in this vast city of ours. Some, like the Mackenzie King and the Laurier, honour past prime ministers. But most of our bridges — defined as a crossing longer than three metres — are nameless, depending on geography to situate them in city databases. Think Blair Road overpass or one of our newest crossings, the Castlefran­k Road- Kanata Avenue overpass in Kanata.

Soon, young and old, whether walking across the overpass’s wide, pedestrian­friendly sidewalks, or driving across the span over Highway 417, will be greeted by signs announcing Valour Bridge. The name, approved earlier this month by city council at the request of the Royal Canadian Legion, will be displayed prominentl­y on large, well- lit plaques affixed to the pillars at either end of the elegant bridge.

On the inside walls of the bridge will be 16 smaller plaques commemorat­ing significan­t battles and missions involving the Canadian Forces since the turn of the 20th century.

The first will recognize the Boer War, followed by three plaques for the First World War, eight for the Second World War, one for the Korean War, one for peacekeepi­ng campaigns, one for the Cold War and one for the post- Cold War era, bringing us to the present day.

Duane Daly, dominion secretary of the Royal Canadian Legion, is excited about the project, which will mark the organizati­on’s 80th anniversar­y year. In addition to being a commemorat­ion, Mr. Daly sees the project as an important education campaign in the ongoing effort by the Legion to ensure “ the care of Canada’s veterans and the perpetuati­on of remembranc­e.”

Thus the name Valour Bridge, said Mr. Daly, because it “ represents the essence of all those campaigns of the common man.”

Since the Legion moved its national headquarte­rs from Kent Street to the corner of Aird Place and Castlefran­k Road in September, Mr. Daly has had a bird’s- eye view of the soon- to- be Valour Bridge. It’s out the large windows on the top floor at the back of the building that the Legion’s chief administra­tive officer has been watching the heavy traffic crossing the bridge daily. And with a seniors’ building across the street, high schools in the neighbourh­ood and the busy Kanata Leisure Centre next door, there is no shortage of pedestrian­s.

A perfect audience for a lesson or two in our military history.

Kanata Councillor Peggy Feltmate, who brought the Valour Bridge motion to council — the city has agreed to match the Legion’s contributi­on of up to $ 25,000 — hopes the plaques “ will spur some questions.”

The Valour project, she said, is important as “ a reminder of what our forefather­s did. As more of our veterans are dying, we are losing our living history.”

Mafeking, for example. Mr. Daly admits that many people “ are surprised” to hear that Canadians were involved in South Africa. For the record, more than 7,000 Canadians participat­ed in the Boer War of 1899- 1902. More than 200 died.

The Legion, which worked on the design end of the plaque project, enlisted the help of Steve Harris, chief historian at the Department of National Defence’s directorat­e of history and heritage, to ensure accuracy and that no mission was excluded. The city is in charge of ordering the plaques and getting them installed, as well as protecting them from graffiti artists.

When the plaques are up — a dedication ceremony is scheduled for Dec. 1 — and you find yourself walking or driving across Valour Bridge, slow down and breathe in the history. Then notice the space on the abutment walls for three future plaques. What will they say?

War and peace. It’s something to think about.

 ?? CHRIS MIKULA, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN ?? The Canadian Legion has received permission to rename Castlefran­k Road bridge to Valour Bridge and will erect plaques commemorat­ing Canadian military battles along it.
CHRIS MIKULA, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN The Canadian Legion has received permission to rename Castlefran­k Road bridge to Valour Bridge and will erect plaques commemorat­ing Canadian military battles along it.
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