Calgary remembers the dead at a memorial event at Peacekeeper Park
It was August 9, 1974. A United Nations-marked Buffalo plane with nine Canadian peacekeepers on board was on a resupply mission from Beirut to Damascus.
While flying over Syria, a surface-to-air missile fired the plane from the sky, killing all nine Canadians.
It was the highest number of blue helmets killed in a single event. On the anniversary, Peacekeepers Day, Canada remembers them and hundreds of other Canadian servicemen and women who served in peacekeeping and peace support operations.
Today – the Sunday closest to August 9 this year – Calgarians honored fallen peacekeepers at a memorial event at Peacekeeper Park in Garrison Green.
“There are 328 names on this wall of peacekeepers who have lost their lives in peacekeeping and peace support operations since 1950,” former peacekeeper Rick Wright said, referring to the Garrison Green memorial.
Wright served as a peacekeeper in Egypt in 1974 and in Cyprus in 1979. He is also president of the Calgary chapter of the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping and was master of ceremonies at Sunday’s event.
It was a healing day for the families at the event, according to Wright. There are always at least a few families of fallen peacekeepers who come each year, depending on when the day falls.
For Tara Bartsch, whose younger brother Daniel was killed in 2007 by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, this day is a way for her to remember her brother and spend a day just for peacekeepers.
“I think it’s important because there’s not much for the dead,” she said. “There’s Remembrance Day and there’s Veterans Day, but [today] is really for [peacekeepers] who have not returned and those who are still there.
For Wright, the day is about educating Canadians about their past and future in peacekeeping, which he says has changed the country and the people involved for the better.
But the world that created peacekeeping after the Korean War no longer exists, Wright said. For the past two decades, Wright says Canada has not carried out traditional peacekeeping missions, which may involve separating combatants. But peacekeeping is changing just like the world, according to Wright.
“Change is continuous and you have to adapt to it,” he said.
“Canadians need to understand that there is continuous change.”
Next year, Peacekeepers’ Day will be August 17, 2023.