A small town in southwestern Ontario has found a remarkable way to salute their hometown veterans.
The community of Harriston, about a three hour drive from Peterborough, has adorned its main street with commemorative Remembrance Day banners. Each has the name and picture of a local veteran, along with the military branch they served in.
This project was launched by the Harriston Legion Branch 296, and it’s the first year of the initiative.
It has already garnered a significant amount of attention from both the media and other Legion branches intending to do the same next year.
“The idea came from a small town in New Brunswick called St. George,” says Legion member Gary Thackeray, who chaired the committee responsible for organizing the banners. (Full disclosure: he’s also my dad, which made landing an interview with him pretty easy).
The Legion branch in St. George completed this project last year, inspiring Harriston to tackle something similar. After a great deal of planning and hard work, the community was able to display banners of their own.
“I cannot imagine being seventeen, eighteen years old and having to do what they did,” says Thackeray of some of the veterans of the town, many who served during World War II. “Leaving their homes to go away for three, four, five years some of them.”
The intention behind these banners is to engage the community in remembering local veterans and who they were. Walking down the street and seeing the faces of those who have served our country might prompt residents to take an interest and ask questions, especially younger citizens.
It’s in this way that the project encapsulates the ‘Lest We Forget’ theme of Remembrance Day, ensuring continued recognition and respect throughout future generations.
Thackeray explains some of the initiatives being undertaken already, including the proposed involvement of local schools to visit and view the banners, with students completing research projects on a specific veteran.
“Bus tours are also being scheduled to and from local retirement centres so seniors can view the banners as well,” he says.
Each banner was sponsored by the respective veteran’s families. They were put up on October 1, and will be taken down after Remembrance Day. They’ll be used for three years before it is anticipated they will have to be retired and replaced.
“After three years, a new banner will likely have to be redone because it’ll be weathered,” says Thackeray. However, this is all just an estimate, since this is the first year the project was initiated. “We don’t really know, this is all new!”
Fifteen banners were put up this year, and already a growing number of applications are being received for next year’s phase of the project. Lots of publicity was generated around the undertaking, most notably a feature on CTV news.
“Our branch is a solid branch, we’ve got a good executive,” says Thackeray, when discussing the support needed to ensure the success of the project. “They’ve got behind this, and they’ve promoted it.”
Thackeray says the branch has also been receiving inquiries from other Legion branches in Ontario, regarding how to initiate such a project in their own communities. “Things are picking up, and hopefully there will be a lot more branches that do this for next year.”
The project took Harriston about a year in the planning, so now is a great time to start for communities hoping to do the same thing. This also isn’t something exclusive to small towns.
“Midland branch called wanting information, and they’re quite a bit bigger than our community,” says Thackeray. For reference, Midland’s population is about 16,500 compared to Harriston’s 2,000.
He also thinks this is definitely a viable project for larger cities, such as Peterborough. “It can be done in any city, for sure. They just have to designate a certain area for the banners to be installed.”
In Harriston, the Legion branch undertook the project in partnership with the Town of Minto (the local township), and the Chamber of Commerce. The Town of Minto looked after installing the banners and taking them down, while the Chamber of Commerce helped out with the finances.
However, there’s plenty of viable arrangements to make this project possible for any given region. It all depends on what is suitable for each particular community.
It seems as though there’s a great potential for similar projects to catch on across the province.
It’s been extremely well received in Harriston, with many hailing it as a heartfelt and emotional way to show how veterans are revered in the community.
“I hope they go ahead with this,” says Thackeray of the prospective future projects among other communities, “I think it’s a great idea.”