Cape Breton Highlanders mark 150th anniversary with rare change of colours parade

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Nova Scotia Lt.-Gov. Arthur LeBlanc, left, presents new colours to the Cape Breton Highlanders Regiment during a change of colours ceremony in Sydney, N.S., on Saturday. (Master Cpl. Trevor Matheson/5th Canadian Division Public Affairs/Department of National Defence - image credit)
Nova Scotia Lt.-Gov. Arthur LeBlanc, left, presents new colours to the Cape Breton Highlanders Regiment during a change of colours ceremony in Sydney, N.S., on Saturday. (Master Cpl. Trevor Matheson/5th Canadian Division Public Affairs/Department of National Defence - image credit)

The Cape Breton Highlanders Regiment celebrated its 150th anniversary with an uncommon and important ceremony on Saturday.

The regiment, which was made a separate unit in 2010 after more than five decades as part of an amalgamated unit, was given its new regimental colours from Nova Scotia Lt.-Gov. Arthur LeBlanc at Cape Breton University in Sydney, N.S.

Colours are flags used by a military unit. One called the queen's colour. The second is the regimental colour, which shows the crest of the unit and its battle honours to date.

The presentation of new colours isn't common in the military and only happens in rare instances, such as when a new unit is formed, according to Lt.-Col. Dan McNeil, commanding officer of the Highlanders.

"I was talking to the division commander, he's got 33 years and I've got 35, and that's the first time I've seen it," he said.

The new colours signify a new identity and show the Cape Breton Highlanders' latest battle honours, which include tours of Afghanistan.

Christian Roach/CBC
Christian Roach/CBC

The Cape Breton Highlanders Regiment can trace its lineage to the Victoria Provisional Battalion of Infantry established in Baddeck, N.S., on Oct. 13, 1871. It was amalgamated with other units in 1954 as part of the Nova Scotia Highlanders, before returning to a standalone regiment a little more than a decade ago.

McNeil said it's important to Cape Bretoners to see the regiment finally back on the island.

"It meant a lot for the people of Cape Breton, especially for those who had ancestors or relatives who served in the Highlanders," said McNeil.

It took time to develop the colours and get them "just right," he said. The ceremony was held this year because it marks the 150th anniversary if the unit.

Christian Roach/CBC
Christian Roach/CBC

The change of colours parade ceremony was about an hour long and culminated with designated Highlanders, called the colour party and colour guard, unveiling the new red and gold colours to a crowd filled with veterans.

The significance of the moment was felt by young and old alike.

"It's one of those things that obviously not everyone gets a chance to see. I've been in the military for just over 10 years," said Sgt. James DeRabbie, who was a colour guard during the ceremony.

"For us, it's an immense sense of pride. It's not something that not everybody gets to experience in their career. So it is a very special occasion and it means a lot to everybody in the regiment."

The parade ended a weekend filled with events at CBU commemorating the history of the Highlanders. Other events included a guided virtual military-themed wine and historical tour, and a military ball.

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