Sudbury's sea cadets replace fading Canadian flags at veterans' graves

It was a sunny May Sunday. So different from the traditional cold and wet of a Nov. 11th Remembrance Day event. At 11 a.m., young Navy League of Canada Sudbury Branch cadets, their parents and officers assembled in the dappled shade at Sudbury’s Second Avenue Civic Cemetery.

The bugle called out “Last Post” followed by a minute of silent reflection.

The purpose? “I was here with Bob Polmateer some months ago and we saw the Canadian flags at veterans’ plots tattered, faded pink, falling apart, torn,” remarked 91-year-old Gerald (Gerry) Bradley. The headstones have a holder for a flag, but it had been some time since there had been renewal.

“It has been left up to people to look after their relatives’ headstones and the flags. Some veterans have been gone for a long time. Some have no family anymore. We had to do something about the situation.”

Bradley says the 100 flags came to Sudbury via a complex route that started in Halifax.

Ultimately, it is about respect and remembrance. Polmateer and Bradley co-organized this event honouring veterans knowing it is also good for the young cadets to learn the importance of tradition.

A retired commander, Bradley has had many years of experience working with the Cadet Corps. He also ran many summer camps at CFB Borden and elsewhere.

He has positively impacted many hundreds of lives in his steadfast leadership role throughout the years. On April 17, 2018, he was awarded the Governor General's Sovereign's Medal for Volunteers for his more than five decades of service to youth and veterans.

“I’ve been with the Sudbury Branch of the Navy League since 1946," he says." I was born in the maternity hospital up on Elm Street near Gus’s. I’m committed to this town and this organization.”

In Sudbury specifically for this event, Bob Polmateer likewise is a faithful former cadet and officer, and now serves on the Navy League Sudbury branch executive. He is overseeing a major fundraising project to renovate the Boathouse and Training Centre on Ramsey Lake across from Science North.

“In 1968 to ’74, I was a sea cadet … along with some of my mates here today. I now am the president of the Mountbatten Sea Cadet Corps Alumni Association. We have over 220 members across Canada. Some months ago I was here with Jerry to show respect for his wife.”

Married to Gerry for 71 years Joan Bradley is interred in the columbarium adjacent to the rows of individual veterans’ graves.

Polmateer pauses and recalls: “We looked out from the cenotaph and saw the state of the flags and I was sad. I said ‘We need to fix this’ and so here we are.

"This gives the kids exposure to ceremony. We have some Legionaries out today, too. With their support and that of the Last Post Society, there were funds to do this. In October we hope to go to the other section of the cemetery and place more flags.”

Will it promote others across Canada to do the same?

“Where I live in southern California, people come out on Memorial Day and put out flags. Memorial Day is (May 27) and it is just a coincidence that we are doing it today. We could have done it on the celebration of the Battle of the Atlantic. It just happens it was scheduled for today and because of that, I could be here.

“The Navy League and Sea Cadets represent a wonderful opportunity for kids to grow. There is no cost. It launched friendships that have lasted a lifetime, it gave us skills that have served us, our careers, our country.”

Polmateer is adamant his life was enriched by the experiences.

LCdr Kristi Bahen is in the second round of commanding the Sudbury Branch of the Navy League. “It has been six years. I got involved because of my stepdaughter. I was just a parent, a spectator, but since I was there I felt I could step up. I had some experience, having served on the HMCS Cataraqui in Kingston.

“We see kids recruiting other kids. They are great ambassadors. We only have seven cadets on paper currently. Pre-COVID we were 32. Our summer camp is at Wilabosca on Windy Lake. The idea is to have fun … but also to learn.

"On Ramsey (Lake), we also have a sailing program that teaches the rules of the water, safety, transferable skills. There is also exposure to a 22-foot boat that brings them to the next level.”

What brings kids to join cadets? Bradley doesn’t miss a beat: “Nine- to 12-year-olds are anxious to do something. They have a great experience and they then are recruited for the Sea Cadets once they have their 12th birthday. It is a natural progression. Their uniforms are sponsored by the Navy League. We have space in Sea Cadets now. COVID shut us down. We need to rebuild numbers.”

To find out more information about Navy League Cadet Corps Sudbury 44, go to its Facebook page,

The website is listed as “under construction” but here are two other routes to reach the organization: 705-222-6289 and

Hugh Kruzel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star