The time to remember Canada’s veterans is fast approaching and a program at the Ponoka Secondary Campus (PSC) is working to instill the importance of remembrance and gratitude all year long.
PSC teacher Ron Labrie leads the Broncs World Tour program and mentors each year a group of students through thoroughly investigating names engraved on Ponoka’s cenotaph. The program also features a tour through Europe to visit war memorials, graveyards and other locations the soldiers toured.
Labrie has always believed that today’s youths have been the generation of remembrance and the program compliments and strengthens that trait.
“You see graduated students who are coming back to the school for the celebration and the Legion’s celebration,” said Labrie.
“It speaks to the legacy of the program. They (students) understand the importance and they’re doing it on their own . . . it’s become a part of their character,” he added
Matthew Jones, Grade 11, is a newcomer to the program this year. He wanted to experience the “once in a lifetime” opportunity and pay his respects to the Ponoka soldiers who did not come back home.
“It’s basically like Remembrance Day to me,” said Jones, referring to the program. “The soldiers died to make us have what we have today.”
“We can never really say thank you . . . so we remember,” he added.
He feels it is important to be grateful for what the soldiers achieved and that the work of the Broncs World Tour is important because of its ability to impact so many lives.
During their European excursion the students take grave rubbings and gather other in-depth information and stories on the soldiers. On their return to Ponoka the students hold a ceremony with the Legion to show their findings to community members and relatives of the soldiers.
Jones feels this makes the connection to the past stronger. “It makes me feel good about the whole thing.”
He is looking forward to seeing the Vimy Ridge Memorial in Europe, “for what it represents”.
This year the tour will stray from its usual path to visit the Moro River Cemetery in Italy where two Ponoka soldiers are buried after dying in the Battle of Ortona.
Labrie says the battle was intense, with soldiers of each side fighting in houses trying to gain each room and building for themselves. “It was Christmas Eve, kind of a crazy time of year to have a battle.”
“The Broncs World Tour has never been to that site before,” he added.
Because of the importance of Centennial year, the students are also focusing their efforts on France and Belgium. “It’s kind of a heightened awareness for our kids because it’s a heightened awareness for the people who live there,” said Labrie.
Labrie says the program is investigating eight soldiers this year and with the completion in the spring the Broncs World Tour will have investigated approximately 80 per cent of the names of the cenotaph.
“The end is in sight and in a few years we’ll have completed the journey,” said Labrie.
The school’s Hall of Valor, a hallway dedicated to Ponoka soldiers and corresponding battles, is continuing to hang plaques of each soldier and this year’s inductee is Private Gilbert Ehrman, who fought in the Second World War and died in the Battle of Monte Cassino.