Veterans and current service members marched side by side Tuesday (Aug. 9) through Esquimalt in remembrance of Canadian peacekeepers.
The annual parade marks the anniversary of the deaths of nine Canadians who were serving as United Nations peacekeepers in the Middle East on a mission to preserve the cease-fire signed after the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
“To those of you who are peacekeepers, there’s a whole next level that is asked of you, and you rose to that occasion where you needed to stand up for the ideals of an international order to ensure that countries that at times, may not have been kind to each other. We’re able to keep the peace and move forward so that we could live in a better world,” Capt. Jeff Hutchinson, base commander at CFB Esquimalt said in a speech during the ceremony.
On Aug. 9, 1974, nine Canadian passengers and crew were killed when a Syrian missile shot down a United Nations’ marked Canadian Buffalo aircraft, flying from Ismailia, Egypt to Damascus, Syria as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission.
Ret. Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Preston was on duty that night and tasked with relaying the radio message to his command and then passing it on to Canada.
“So it went from being a pretty good adventure to a 20-year-old – it was my first real time out of the country – to, ‘Oh this is serious.’”
Preston came from a military family and had been enlisted as a reservist prior to deploying as a peacekeeper, so he knew the risks, but the situation was still jarring.
“We all knew what could happen. I guess the biggest thing I’m grateful for is that I wasn’t on that airplane. I could have been if I’d chosen to go on leave, which a lot of people were doing. So I’m thankful for that.”
After returning from his peacekeeping mission, Preston continued on as a reservist and was also a police officer with the Victoria Police Department. He is now also working as president of the Friends of Ashton Armoury Museum in Saanich – vehicles from the museum were part of the parade – and said remembering Canada’s history is important to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
“I guess what really irritates me is that a lot of people turn around and say, ‘well, who’s going to attack us? We’re Canadians.’ We’re the second largest country in the world, the world’s largest coastline – when you add up all the islands – we are bounded on three oceans that other countries are interested in the resources underneath. We’re a resource-rich country but we’ve got a small population. If we’re going to maintain our status as a free and independent nation, we’ve got to be able to stand up for ourselves. To be quite frank, we’re not ready. If things went sideways very quickly. We’re not ready.”