Search and Rescue squadron given 'Freedom of the City' in Gander

Search and Rescue squadron given 'Freedom of the City' in Gander

They've taken to the skies, and plucked people out of the most difficult spots of the Atlantic Ocean.

Now, 40 years after their first life-saving missions flew from Canadian Forces Base Gander, the 103 Search and Rescue Squadron has received top honours from the Town.

The Squadron was granted the Freedom of the City designation by Mayor Claude Elliott on Tuesday morning, in a parade that stretched through the town.

"One of the most prized honours that a community can bestow upon a military unit," Elliot said as members of the 103 Squadron marched through the streets, joined by a Royal Canadian Air Force band from Winnipeg.

'Proud of them'

"Very much a presence and identity for our community, and outstanding people," said Gary House, who came out to watch the ceremony at Gander's town hall on Tuesday.

"It's been very significant to have them here all these years."

In the four decades since the unit moved to Gander, crews have logged more than 55,000 hours of flying, and saved about 1,500 lives, according to Major James Pinhorn, the commanding officer of the Squadron.

"To know they are there for you, you've got to really support them," said Hardy Lambert, another onlooker at the parade. He said he came out to thank those in uniform.

"Those search and rescue guys don't mind jumping out of that chopper. It is [amazing.]"

Lambert, 81, said he had two sons work in the armed forces, and both had stints at 9 Wing Gander. 

"I'm proud of them," he said. "We need more younger people getting involved in our country."

Ancient roots

The 103 Squadron came to Gander as a rescue unit in 1977.

The honour they received Tuesday dates back much earlier. According to Maj. Pinhorn, the concept originated in ancient Rome.

He told CBC Radio's Central Morning Show  that a Freedom of the City award is an agreement between a military unit and a town that recognizes the unit's trustworthiness.

"Only the most trusted units were allowed inside the city with their weapons, so this is kind of a ceremonial enactment of that," he said.

"It basically signifies the trust and the service that 103 has had with the town."