He’s been to memorial monuments and war graves all over Europe and for the past eight years bring the spirits back to Ponoka.
Ron Labrie, a social studies teacher at Ponoka Composite High School, received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal from MP Blaine Calkins Canada Day, at the Ponoka Stampede.
Labrie was nominated by the Ponoka Legion and for him that was an experience in itself, but he didn’t think anything would come of it.
Approximately two weeks before he received the medal, Labrie received a call from Calkins’ office stating he was being awarded. “When those kinds of things happen you’re very, very grateful. I was humbled,” Labrie said.
Labrie has been awarded the medal for his passionate efforts of remembrance, and for keeping alive the spirit of soldiers killed in action.
In 2005 Labrie experienced his first battlefield tour. Historica and the Canadian Battlefields Foundation teamed up to educate teachers on Canadian battlefields and cemeteries in France.
As part of the tour Labrie researched the story of pilot officer Joseph Gordon Brady, from Ponoka.
When Labrie returned to Ponoka he was the guest speaker at the legion dinner honouring the Year of the Veteran.
He also had a plan and a project in mind; the Ponoka Cenotaph Project, now the Broncs World Tour.
“In 2007 I led an Alberta delegation of students to Ottawa for the Remembrance Youth Summit, where we worked on new ways for present and future generations to continue to carry on the torch of remembrance,” Labrie said.
It wasn’t until 2009 Labrie began teaching the Bronc World Tour (BWT). It’s a year long course that takes place outside of regular school hours. The students initiate research of Ponoka and areas soldiers killed in action.
The students create a biography of the soldiers. “They find out their height, their eye colour, their hobbies,” Labrie said. “It gives the students an opportunity to put a story behind a name.”
“There’s more to that person than just a name on a bronze plaque.”
In 2011 the BWT students met Signore Constantino, the village historian and expert on the Battle of Liri Valley.
According to Labrie, Constantino was grateful a group of young Canadians where interested and passionate about the battle that destroyed his village in Liri Valley.
The students of BWT have also met former a member of the French Resistance, Adrien Jobin. At age 19 Jobin hid the surviving crew members of a Lancaster bomber who’d been shot down in Jobin’s commune.
Jobin’s village created a monument to honour the two RCAF members that died. One of them was from Ponoka, officer George Cameron.
“We’ve have had many unbelievable discoveries over the years, including sharing information, pictures and grave rubbings with family. These events have been extremely emotional, yet highly rewarding as there has been a sense of connection and reminiscence of soldiers long lost,” said Labrie.
Labrie mentioned that at some gravesites the Ponoka students are probably the only people who have even visited.
Labrie and his students work with the Fort Ostell Museum, going through old newspapers for any information. Sometimes they find a name, and if they’re really lucky, a picture.
Ponoka Composite High School applied for funding for a memorial project for its Hall of Valor. “Our school has really embraced the Cenotaph Project, and consequently our Remembrance Day ceremony is one of the most important assemblies at Ponoka Composite.”
Labrie found that the more involved you get in a project like this the more its importance becomes magnified every year. “The mission at the end of the day is to get through everybody. You don’t want to forget anyone. You don’t want to disappoint anyone,” Labrie said
Labrie has always been interested in history, but more specifically its military aspects. “Why these guys would unselfishly give themselves” … That’s his million dollar question.”
“They made the ultimate sacrifice, they didn’t come home.”