The Maple Leaf Forever…

Wooden flag of Canada

This old song stirs something in me. Written in 1867 by Alexander Muir it, along with God Save the King, was a de facto Canadian national anthem until O Canada was composed.  The Maple Leaf Forever. It’s history is surrounded by the usual French/English/Colonial arguments, but for me it’s hard to look past the way it unified us.  Maybe it’s my romantic vision of the ranks of Canadian soldiers marching under the Red Ensign in preparation for the assault on Vimy Ridge, but there is no denying the way that it stirs my Canadian pride.

I’ve walked the European battlefields of WW1 and WW2 and I have seen the maple leaf in the chalk of the tunnels of Arras. I’ve seen the word CANADA scratched into the bricks in a French basement that housed our boys in 1917. My great uncle, Joseph Grant Helliwell, was killed on June 15 1915, during the battle of Givenchy and his name is carved into the limestone on the Vimy memorial. The stone of the monument was warm from the sun when I touched it and I have spent hours pondering what his sacrifice means to me.  There’s a lot of names there… and I’ve soaked on that too.  Would my great uncle Joe have seen a different Canada if he had returned from France? Maybe not right away, but she certainly came of age during that time of turmoil and history tells us that our national identity was born on those bloody fields of Europe. I owe it to him, and to the faceless names that keep his company at Vimy, to honour the home that he has left me.

 “The torch, be yours to hold it high”
Paul Nichols

December 1, 2002, was a cold day in Winnipeg.  My head was thick from travel, not enough sleep, and too many drinks from the night before… I was back in Winnipeg to take part in the presentation of the Commander in Chief Unit Commendation to the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry for action in the Medak Pocket. When we stepped onto the surface in the Winnipeg arena, the RCAF band played The Maple Leaf Forever. That day the song took on a new meaning for me and from then on it has held a special place in my heart. I felt pride in being part of the next generation of Canadian soldiers to march to that tune and that day, the band played it for us.

Canadian forest with horses

This Ride Across Canada has taken me over 5000 km on horseback. I have ridden through forests and mountains and across the prairies and I have been joined by close to 200 of our contemporary veterans. Last week I was hosted, then guided, and then befriended by the Governor General’s Horse Guard on my way through the Greater Toronto Area with my horses. At the Aurora Legion (branch 385) my new friends honoured The Ride with a parade. WW2 veterans, Korean War vets, Cold War vets and representation from so many missions and services were involved in the day… Her Honour the Hon. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, the 29th Lt. Governor of Ontario officiated and presented The Ride a gift and offered her kind words of encouragement.

The Horse Guards also gave me a special gift that day. As I rode Zoe onto the parade square, they gave my horse and I a place of honour beside the colours and their band played The Maple Leaf Forever.