THUNDER BAY – Aboriginal soldiers such as Frank Banning and John Baptist Louis, who both served during the Second World War, were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for Canada.
While Banning returned home, it was to a country where he had to fight for his rights despite his sacrifice. And he came home alone after Louis was killed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944 during the D-Day invasion.
Twenty years have passed since Banning first held a Remembrance Day ceremony at Mount McKay on the Fort William First Nation, celebrating the often overlooked contributions made by First Nations soldiers to the war efforts in the First and Second World Wars, Korea and other Canadian missions.
The ceremony has become an annual tradition which has been carried on by his daughter Catherine following Banning’s death in 2010 at the age of 84.
It continued on Wednesday, as hundreds of people of all ages gathered at the cenotaph on the lookout to pay respects.
“For us to celebrate here on our land, at our memorial cross and our cenotaph, is just a huge honour,” she said. “It is something my dad always wanted and it was very healing for our community.”
The ceremony included the laying of wreaths at the base of the memorial cross. Many children and grandchildren of veterans placed a wreath in honour of their family member, a task they feel more of an obligation to do as time goes on.
“It’s unfortunate that the time is passing and veterans are passing on so we do have to keep it in the forefront. We have to remember them and honour them,” Banning said.
“The young people, thankfully, I’m guessing won’t actually have lived through a world war so for them to remember them here is a way of educating and honouring their families.”
Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins, who laid a wreath on behalf of the community, said Remembrance Day is a special occasion and a reason to be thankful.
“I think it’s very important to celebrate the commitments of our men and women going overseas and fighting in the war to keep our country safe,” he said.
Royal Canadian Legion Slovak Legion 129 member Alan Kaija said the contributions made by Canadian troops can be seen around the globe.
“You look at the First World War and Second World War, we wouldn’t have a Canada,” he said. “Then you go into the Korea and peacekeeping missions, the people we fought for wouldn’t have what they have today. It’s just unreal, the sacrifices made by Canadians for world peace.”
About 150 students from a number of local schools were on hand for the ceremony, with a group from Ecole Gron Morgan Public School singing Oh Canada.
It’s important for them to learn about the sacrifices made many years ago, Banning said.
“For my father, the big thing was to make sure the children were educated on the vets and the wars,” she said. “It reminds me of my youth. Growing up, we respected and honoured the veterans on Remembrance Day every year. It’s so nice to see so many schools come out.”