Last year felt incomplete without a Remembrance Day ceremony to commemorate the brave Canadian military members, living and deceased, who have served their country. This year, Centennial College safely hosted a live, in-person ceremony, on Nov. 11.
The Remembrance Day ceremony was held at the Story Arts Campus in Toronto. The ceremony took place outdoors in the College’s courtyard, hosted by Story Arts Centres’ Sports Journalism Program coordinator, Malcolm Kelly. Military officers, Cmdr. Leanne Crowe and Lt.-Col. Rick O’Neil attended the event, as well as Dan Middleton, son of late veteran Bob Middleton, and faculty members and students.
Six paramedic students carried out the colour guard drill for the ceremony. Three students each upheld a flag for the Royal Legion, including a flag representing the college. The next set of three flags acknowledged National Indigenous Veterans Day, held on Nov. 8.
One of the guest speakers, Cmdr. Leanne Crowe became the first female clearance diver and first female Commanding Officer of the Experimental Diving Unit in 1993. She has spent 38 years serving in the naval reserve, and now continues her service in several different military-related roles.
As a Naval Clearance Diver, her job consisted of destroying underwater sea mines and bombs. Though a few war-torn countries still plant mines and bombs, it was more commonly used at the time of the Second World War as a scheme to sink ships and submarines, which continue to be discovered and diffused today. As of late, Canadian Naval officers haven’t been deployed for these operations.
Being deployed overseas to new places, she reveals what it was like to adjust.
“Moving away from home early on — I was good with that — the idea of being independent, away from your parents and trying to find yourself. And then, I had a lot of opportunity to travel around the world while being in the navy,” Cmdr. Crowe said.
“That was one of the best experiences because I’ve always liked to travel and the navy took me to a lot of places that I never would’ve gone to before. It not only increased my desire to travel, but also my knowledge of the rest of world outside of Canada and in getting to know what other places are like.”
Crowe also spent seven months in Afghanistan for a National Afghan Forces program. She was in charge of training and managing military students on tactics to safely handle improvised explosive devices (IED).
“Most people in the military nowadays are quite comfortable with speaking about what they do. When you know something and you’re passionate about it, you’re more open to speak about it,” Cmdr. Crowe said. “Dealing with a traumatic experience, people handle those differently, some people like to talk about it and some people don’t. For those who don’t want to talk about it, there’s always avenues to help them deal with those traumatic experiences.”
Remembering and honouring a friend
Crowe said this Remembrance Day, she was honouring a friend who died during his service.
Petty Officer, 2nd Class, Craig Blake, was killed in 2010 by an IED. Both Blake and Crowe were clearance divers and Crowe was Blake’s commanding officer, and trained him before he went to Afghanistan. He died three weeks into his tour of duty.
“He was a really great human being, a father of two young boys and he was a super fit avid cyclist and a hockey coach for young kids in his community,” Crowe said. “I was thinking about him on this day and on the anniversary of his death. He was one of the many navy folks who went there to try and get rid of the IEDs, and unfortunately, he didn’t come home.”
Crowe now shares her experience and expertise in her role as a mentor and educator for future generations at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto.
The Canadian Forces College offers professional military education for several programs within the navy, army, air force and reserve careers. Cmdr. Crowe was initially an instructor at the college, and now has her hand in a significantly bigger role: a chair member of the military planning and operations department, as well as developing the curriculum for the program.
Crowe plans on retiring in the next couple of years but intends to continue supporting the veteran community here in Canada.
“When I retire I’m hoping to do a lot more volunteer work at organizations that help veterans that are struggling to cope,” she said.