The renowned Broncs World Tour almost didn’t take flight this year due to a terrorism scare.
Just 24 hours before Ponoka Secondary Campus (PSC) students made their famed trip to Europe, which traditionally researches Ponoka soldiers killed in action in the First and Second World Wars, terrorists bombed two locations in Brussels, Belgium.
One of the biggest stops on the tour is a visit to Menin Gate in Ypres, some 125 kms from Brussels. Social studies teacher, and founder of the Ponoka Cenotaph Project, Ron Labrie said while there was a strong desire from students and parents to complete the project and some discussions with Wolf Creek Public Schools administration and PSC administration had to occur.
“We had to make some hard and fast decisions on what to do next,” said Labrie of the process.
After some consultation, the trip was given the green light with the proviso that the trip bypass its Belgium portion of the tour. For most students, the biggest concern was that they might not be able to visit the grave site of the soldier they were studying.
“That was the most scary part about it all, was thinking that we might not actually go,” said student Lindsey Gartner.
The whole tour was a blur of travelling and finding the out-of-the-way cemeteries and grave sites with their tour guides. Students gathered gravestone rubbings, where they took a large sheet of paper to rub an impression of the headstone, and would explain their research to the class.
The symbolism of the trip was at times, quite real.
Upon arrival of the grave site of First World War soldier Ivan Myrrel Fisher, whom Cassandra Moulton and Jenna Hodnefield were studying, the weather was relatively warm and seemed quite stable.
“About 30 seconds into the presentation it started pouring rain,” said Jenna Hodnefield.
While a rainstorm may not seem strange in most cases, the inscription on the headstone read, “Peace among the storm.” As soon as students finished their grave rubbing, the rain stopped.
The trip also brought other challenges such as finding ways to do rubbings on headstones that are close to 100 years old. Another big challenge in the research project is finding photos of soldiers, especially those from the First World War. “They’re really hard to find, also connections to family members, hard to find,” said Labrie.
However, students’ dedicated research uncovered other historical gems. Research into the story of Cpl. James Carey Pike, killed in action in 1914, unearthed a battlefield diary showing where and when Pike was killed.
Teaming up on Pike’s history was Hannah Louis, Brynne Louis and Sky Rogalski who struggled to find anything on him, until they discovered the war diary. In honour of Pike’s life, Hannah’s mother gathered a medicine bag, sweetgrass wreath and eagle feather to recognize Pike and to bring some First Nations culture to the trip. The eagle feather and medicine bag were tied close to where Pike was killed and the sweetgrass wreath was released to the river.
“We finally had something really special,” said Rogalski after finding the map.
As it happened, there were three students working together on the story of Pte. Thomas Phillips, who intended to tell his story at Menin Gate. For Regan Corkery, Derek Van Pelt and Cassie Hall, there was some closure recently being able to tell his tale at the Ponoka Legion after their trip.
Many of the students were left feeling closer to the soldiers they researched. “Lots of them were really young,” explained Gartner. “And they didn’t have a lot of life but they still living on today, like, through this project.”
She said it gave them a chance at remembering the lives of fallen Ponoka soldiers.