'Heartfelt gratitude': Askennonia recognizes Midland veterans

Cenotaph engagements are quite often held outside in varying weather conditions during Remembrance Day in November, which can provide challenges for the veterans it serves to acknowledge.

The Askennonia Seniors Centre in Midland held its 24th annual ‘Honour Our Veterans Luncheon’ on Thursday as a personal thank you to those who served their country.

“The lunch is about us saying thanks to you, our veterans,” said executive director Judy Contin to the room filled with well over a hundred people in the North Simcoe Sports and Recreation Community Room.

“Of course, we couldn’t gather today without recognizing the empty seats in this room that were once filled by local veterans,” Contin added. “It’s a heartfelt gratitude that we remember absent friends who served both during and after their enlistment and we honour their contributions. They will not be forgotten.”

A hot lunch was provided to the many seated at tables throughout the room, including Rosemary Walton who said it was one of her favourite days of the year and was impressed with the attendance numbers.

“I think it’s extremely good considering we’ve not been able to have it for two years. And particularly with the weather, I was afraid that we’d be a lot fewer people, but it’s an extremely good turnout,” Walton said.

Also in attendance were Mayor Bill Gordon and Deputy Mayor Jack Contin, serving in their first official engagement since taking the oath of office the night prior.

Gordon told the crowd that veterans were near and dear to his heart.

“This is a continued opportunity to learn from our past, to make sure that those mistakes of the past remain back there. And that our victories, and all the hard-fought battles and the efforts of so many men and women over the decades are not forgotten. That’s why I’m so happy that these events continue,” said Gordon.

Guest speaker Ted Barris was on hand to talk about the stories collected and shared in his book, Battle of the Atlantic: Gauntlet to Victory.

“It’s Nov. 17, and a lot of people are wondering why I still wear my poppy, but I don’t take my poppy off until after I’ve done Askennonia," he said.

“It’s a tradition to be back in Midland at Askennonia. It’s a privilege to be able to speak to veterans, to tell them (attendees) about an important story like the Battle of the Atlantic, and to share in a little bit of food and fellowship in remembering those who are gone.”

Gord Laco, retired commissioner of the Royal Canadian Navy and a technical and naval advisor for the 2020 film Greyhound with Tom Hanks, wrote the foreword for Barris’ book. He also provided a few words for the audience about the importance of events like the luncheon.

“On Remembrance Day while I did speeches while I was still in uniform at schools and public events, sometimes the event was treated as a funeral for those who didn’t come home. And that’s quite appropriate.

“We should also remember those who did come home because the fight was successful,” Laco said. “It was worth fighting, and they came home and we shouldn’t forget them either.”

When asked about the ways for youth to carry on with gathering the stories of veterans for the future, Barris replied that the courage to ask a veteran to share their experiences was important.

“Be respectful and silent when the moment is requiring it, but also ask questions,” Barris advised. “Don’t be still, don’t be ashamed, don’t be afraid; ask a veteran to tell you what she or he remembers, and remind you or point out to you what’s important about serving a community, serving an armed force, serving a cause.

“If they pick up the torch, then the remembering goes on.”

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca