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Breakfast on the Bridge Celebration, Calgary Ab
June 21, 2014
Watching Olympic gold medal hockey on television; catching the sunrise at the top of Maui’s Haleakala volcano; being the first in line to drop a tarp on the grass at the Calgary Folk Music Festival.
Those are some of the very few things that would rouse the average person out of bed at 4 a.m., a fact of life that made General (ret.) Rick Hillier chuckle on Saturday morning. “In my business we call that sleeping in,” said the former chief of Canada’s defence staff and commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
“I do have to say I’m impressed with all the non-military people that have joined us here today,” said Hillier not long after the sun rose on June 21, 2014, the one-year anniversary of the day Calgarians woke up to find their inner city a giant lake. “But I’m not surprised. This city’s always been at the forefront when it comes to supporting our military.”
The 250 people who came to the Peace Bridge at just before 5 a.m. on a chilly and rainy first day of summer were there for the first annual Breakfast on the Bridge, the brainchild of local philanthropists and businessmen George Brookman and Brett Wilson. As a mix of military and their families and community leaders sat down to a gourmet breakfast provided by Hotel Arts, the guests — sitting in two rows of long tables all facing east — watched the sun rise over the Bow River while three vintage war planes did their first of a series of three flyovers.
The idea for the once-in-a-lifetime experience came to George Brookman more than a year ago when he took one of those early morning treks up Haleakala in Maui. Combined with putting on an event that would also celebrate the city’s newest architectural wonder, “just seemed like it could be something really special,” he said, adding that the event also served as a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the First World War. “We sold out in days,” said Brookman of the fundraiser that this year is in support of the Calgary Military Family Resource Centre (calgarymfrc.ca).
For Marla Ferg, the more than $140,000 raised during the event will go a long way to helping her organization continue to help military personnel and their families as they adjust to regular life post-Afghanistan. “We are concentrating more than ever on health and well-being,” said Ferg, the centre’s executive director.
The money raised will help stage a wellness retreat and conference this fall in Kananaskis. “Events like this not only help us with our programs, they also bring better awareness of what we do in our community,” said Ferg.
In his keynote speech, Hillier, who is known for humorous anecdotes as well as his tough talk on such groups as the Taliban in Afghanistan, did not disappoint the crowd. The veteran orator had them laughing with an opening story about how long and arduous his speeches can be, before changing tack and speaking about the role the military plays in the lives of Canadians.
Along with stories of Canadian soldiers of years gone by, he also mentioned two soldiers who died in Afghanistan, Bryce Keller and Nathan Hornburg, whose families were in the audience.
“They are held to high standards of physical and mental toughness second to none,” he said about the young men and women who serve. “They are expected to take on any job we give them, regardless of the risk that it entails.”
Brett Wilson, who described serving food to soldiers at a forward operating base in Afghanistan as “one of the biggest honours of my life,” also told the crowd he couldn’t quite believe the vision of a breakfast on the Peace Bridge came true.
“Who would have thought we’d get a couple of hundred people on the bridge, at five in the morning?” said Wilson as the once-in-a-lifetime event came to a close and the rest of the city woke to a new day. “This was a great idea.”
By Valerie Fortney, Calgary Herald
(all photos Ed Liukaitis)