RCAF Station Bella Bella
Craig Widsten, owner of Shearwater Marine Group, wanted to build a monument to fulfill his father’s wish to commemorate RCAF Station Bella Bella and the serviceman who served there during WWII. At the same time Craig wanted to recognize the origins of the Shearwater Community which his father helped establish in 1947. A very important element of this celebration was to honour the Central Coast First Nation veterans who, having enlisted to fight for Canada during the war effort, did not receive appropriate recognition. This evolved into the Denny Island War Memorial project. Shearwater was outside 101’s area of interest but we offered to assist him in designing and managing the military aspects of the project. This led to: 101 Squadron designing and producing the six commemorative plaques; Heiltsuk artist Ian Reid carving the Warriors Pole to commemorate the region’s First Nations Veterans; internationally reknown mural artist, Paul Ygartua, painting “United in History” a mural depicting the influential founders of the region; and the Canadian Museum of Flight building the Stranraer Model. Veterans Affairs Canada approved the War Memorial with a commitment to help with funding.
July 6th 2013 was a beautiful sunny day. Shearwater Resort’s crewboats and other boats from the Central Coast brought in people from the outlying villages. A charter aircraft brought forty family members and dignitaries from Vancouver and a Buffalo from 442 Squadron brought in 888 Wing and 101 Squadron members and their CO Lieutenant-Colonel Todd Sharp who spoke at the ceremony. Nearly 400 people attended the event. The dedication of the War Memorial started at 1100 with the Warriors pole and the Cenotaph dedicated first, followed by a memorial service for those who served and those that lost their life serving. Standing at attention in the hot sun, the RCMP and Colour Party were rather warm by the time it was over, as were the seventeen Chiefs in ceremonial regalia. The 101 piper and bugler added to the solemnity of the occasion as did the Chiefs’ welcoming dance and the defenders dance at the Pole dedication. The CO of 442 Squadron spoke of how the military has evolved and how it is here to help residents of the Central coast. Two of the sons of the First CO of 9 BR Squadron Commander S/L Fred Carpenter spoke about their father’s experiences. The event was a very fitting tribute to those who served at RCAF Stn Bella Bella and the First Nations members who served in Canada’s wars. After the first half of the day’s ceremonies the RCAFA and RCMP members retired for a debrief and some refreshments.
A traditional Heiltsuk salmon barbeque was enjoyed by all and then at 2:30 the dedication of the Bella Bella mural “United in History” began. It was an impressive ceremony that lasted five hours in the hot sun. There were members representing all seventeen native and non native founding families. Each family described their attachment to the area and explained what their founding member did to earn this distinction. There was a unanimous voice that it was an excellent ceremony and that recognizing the founding families was done in a manner that respected First Nations protocol. The whole day was a great success