An office in Trail is working quietly behind the scenes to tell the stories of military veterans who lost their lives at battle.
The Canadian Fallen Heroes Foundation put down its roots in Trail this spring and has been connecting with West Kootenay families, Legions and historical societies since. The office is collecting biographies and photos to give proper recognition for those who made sacrifices. These stories have been etched on plaques for over a decade but are also now easily accessible online, an initiative the foundation started in 2012 in Alberta and more recently in B.C. from the Trail office.
“The value in documenting it is just bringing it back to the home community,” explained Steven Hall, administration and communications from Trail. “A lot of times, especially in World War 1, there were a lot of people who were transient, they were looking for work, so the majority of our Alberta soldiers are actually from B.C. or Ontario and Saskatchewan.”
Second World War fallen hero Donald Ernest Gibbon of Trail is one of the 175 West Kootenay soldiers honoured on the website www.canadianfallenheroes.com. The Warrant Officer Class I Pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force was killed during the allied advance through Italy when both engines failed on his Boston aircraft, and it crashed seven miles north-west of Foggia January 14, 1944.
Gibbon was the son of William and Ethel May (Walton) Gibbon of Trail; he was 20 years old and is buried in the Bari War Cemetery at Bari, Italy, his online memorial notes.
“We really try to touch on who they were before the war,” added Hall. “These are the people who settled our home communities and we try to find out as much information as possible.”
The Trail office has formed relationships with local Legions, which provided names on the honour roll as a starting point.
Rob Reilly, vice president of the Royal Canadian Legion in Trail, said the local branch proudly displays one of the foundation’s physical memorial plaques and is impressed with the presence the foundation has made in B.C. in the short time it has been building its online content.
“We have a lot of these memorials hanging here in our branch but other than Remembrance Day when the public is invited in, we’re a private club so not everybody can get in to see them,” he said. “Now anyone can view the memorials, and it’s really accessible, and very well done.”
That starting point is then supported by family members who frequent the site and find a loved one’s biography. They can then dig into their closet and pull out what they’ve kept in their personal record to expand on details and really tell the back story.
“Our main focus is to say ‘Thank you,’” added Hall. “We want to do that all year long, not just Remembrance Day.”
The Trail office also plans on sharing its work with the younger generation through schools so that social studies or history teachers can use the website as a reference to war studies any time of year but also to put a face and local story to their teachings around Remembrance Day.
“We want to bring it back and let people know that these were the sacrifices that were made by your community members,” said Hall. “We feel that all 117,000 men and women who died deserve to be recognized for their sacrifices and we really just want to bring that to all communities throughout the country.”
The non-profit organization started in Alberta as a society in 2001 before gaining a charitable status in 2003. The goal had always been to highlight fallen heroes nationally, but the focus broadened when memorials started finding a place online in 2012.
Through early beginnings, it became obvious that a local presence was needed to grab ahold of historical stories and Hall’s personal connection to Trail resulted in the B.C. office recently setting up shop on Bay Avenue. Research in Trail and the West Kootenay has now become a starting place, as memorials continue to be added to the site.
“We are really focusing on getting into contact with family members or people in the community who may have information on soldiers from the area,” Hall reiterated.
He can be reached at 587-215-6142 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.