Toronto “goes blue” for presentation of RCAF Colours

News Article / September 21, 2017

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By Joanna Calder

Toronto was awash in Royal Canadian Air Force blue on September 1, 2017.

From the RCAF uniforms on parade at Nathan Phillips Square, to the lights on the CN Tower and the TORONTO sign in the Square, to the most important items of all – the RCAF’s old and new Colours – blue was everywhere you looked. Even the sky across which vintage and current RCAF aircraft flew, was a clear Air Force blue.

On that day, one of the most significant ceremonial events in the RCAF’s history took place as Governor General David Johnston, also attired in Air Force blue, presented new Colours – unique, consecrated ceremonial flags – to the RCAF. It was only the third time in the RCAF’s 93-year history that new Colours had been presented.

The first “stand” of Colours – a King’s Colour and an RCAF Colour – was presented in the name of King George VI on June 5, 1950 (the King’s birthday), on Parliament Hill in Ottawa by Governor General Viscount Alexander of Tunis. The second stand was presented following the unification of the Canadian Armed Forces, which had resulted in the Canadian Armed Forces’ air elements being grouped under Air Command. Governor General Edward Schreyer presented the Queen’s Colour and Air Command Colour in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on July 31, 1982.

With the restoration of the RCAF’s historical name in 2011, and the creation of a new badge that more closely resembled the pre-unification badge, it was time to create a new stand of Colours reflecting the restored name and new badge.

“You may be wondering why we are holding this most solemn and special of ceremonies here in Toronto,” said the commander of the RCAF, Lieutenant-General Mike Hood, during the ceremony. “It’s very simple. This is where Canadian military aviation began.

“One hundred years ago – in January of 1917 – members of the Royal Flying Corps came to Canada to recruit and train Canadian aircrew for service during the First World War. They set up their headquarters at 56 Church Street, only about a kilometre from where we are standing right now.” He added that the first military training flight took place at Long Branch, Canada’s first military aerodrome, just south of Toronto’s Lakeshore Boulevard.

The day began with the ceremonial raising of the RCAF flag (not to be confused with the Colours) at Toronto City Hall by Lieutenant-General Hood and Councillor Norm Kelly. Acting on behalf of Mayor John Tory, Mr. Kelly then proclaimed September 1 as “Royal Canadian Air Force Day”.

“As Torontonians, we are thankful for the service and sacrifice of every member of the Royal Canadian Air Force,” he said. “We thank you for your commitment, dedication and courage. It is an honour to raise this flag and have it fly in front of City Hall today.”

At midday, the presentation and consecration ceremony began when RCAF personnel from the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Technology and Engineering, 16 Wing headquarters and the Royal Canadian Air Force Academy, all located in Borden, Ontario, who had been rehearsing intensely for several weeks, marched onto Nathan Phillips Square. They were accompanied by The Central Band of the Canadian Armed Forces and the RCAF Pipes and Drums. Master Warrant Officer Kimberly Jones carried the Eagle Staff, which represents all Aboriginal members of the Canadian Armed Forces: past, present and future.

After Governor General Johnston, accompanied by Lieutenant-General Hood and Chief Warrant Officer Gérard Poitras, RCAF chief warrant officer, inspected the Guard of Honour and the bands, the Air Command Colours were “trooped” for the last time.

“From very early times, the colours or standards, or their more primitive equivalents, led armies into battle and were the rallying points in time of danger. It was essential that the soldier know what the colour looked like so that he would know his duty almost instinctively,” explains E.C. Russell in Customs and Traditions of the Canadian Armed Forces. “He soon learned to look upon and treat the colour with the highest respect. To do so, the soldier had to see his colour at close range, and that is what trooping the colour is all about. It is the ceremonial parading of the colour with armed escort slowly up and down before the regiment drawn up for the purpose. Every soldier of the regiment, or of the company before there were regiments, took a good look at the colour so that he would recognize it in the din and heat of battle and so know his place and rallying point.”

“Like all Colours, these will not be discarded,” noted the masters of ceremonies, Captain Christopher Aumand-Bourque and Captain Audrey Jordan. “Instead they will be placed safely in a public location where only time can affect them. We will announce at a later date where these Colours will be ‘laid up’.”

The Air Command Colours were entrusted to specially selected members of 402 “City of Winnipeg” Squadron, located in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Captain Louis Martel and Captain Emily Nissen carried the two Colours, while Warrant Officer Robyn Arnold, Sergeant Spencer Cass and Sergeant Christopher Longman were escorts. Although Colours are no longer carried into battle, these personnel would have been responsible for defending the Colours against the enemy in a past era.

At this point in the ceremony, spectators were treated to the first part of the enthusiastically-received “parade in the sky”. Flying east to west down Queen Street, a P-51 Mustang from Vintage Wings of Canada, located in Gatineau, Quebec, and a B-25 Mitchell bomber and a CC-129 (DC-3) Dakota from the Warplane Heritage Museum, located in Hamilton, Ontario, were reminders of the RCAF’s rich heritage of service to Canada and Canadians.

As the aircraft flew overhead, the members of the RCAF Pipes and Drums piled their drums as an altar and the new Colours were draped across them. The senior RCAF chaplain, Lieutenant-Colonel Martine Bélanger, accompanied by Rabbi Captain Lazer Danzinger and Imam Captain Ryan Carter, then offered prayers and conducted the service of consecration.

As the masters of ceremonies noted, “Through this means, Colours are sanctified and devoted to service as symbols of honour and duty. Further, all members of the Royal Canadian Air Force, through those here today, will rededicate themselves to the ideals these Colours represent.”

The consecration ceremony included calls to action and responses from the airmen and airwomen on parade:

Lieutenant-Colonel Bélanger: “To the preservation of order and good governance.”

Response: “We dedicate ourselves.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Bélanger: “To the honoured memory of our fallen brothers and sisters in arms, whose courage and endurance add undying lustre to our emblems.”

Response: “We dedicate our Colours.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Bélanger: “In continual remembrance of our solemn oath and in token of our resolve, faithfully and truly, to keep it to the end.”

Response: “We dedicate our Colours.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Belanger then laid her hand upon the draped Colours and spoke the words of consecration: “I set apart these Colours, that they may be a sign of our duty towards the Queen and our Country. Amen”

Following the consecration, Governor General David Johnston then presented the Queen’s Colour and the RCAF Colour to the kneeling Colour bearers. The new Colours were carried and protected by specially selected members of 430 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, located at Valcartier, Quebec. Captain Ryan Pashad and Captain Ariane Philippouci carried the Colours, escorted by Warrant Officer Danny Tremblay, Sergeant André St-Pierre and Sergeant Simon-Pierre Fréchette.

“Your distinguished service is reflected in the Colours you will display,” said the Governor General. “Though Colours are no longer carried in action, as they had been historically, they continue to be visible symbols of pride, honour and devotion to Canada. . . . These colours reflect your history, invoking your original colours, which were granted in 1950, as well as honour all that you have done for us.”

“To the men and women of the Royal Canadian Air Force: here on parade, flying in the skies, and maintaining and controlling our aircraft across Canada and around the world. I am so proud of the tireless work you carry out every day for this great country, Canada, and Canadians,” said Lieutenant-General Hood. “People of Toronto, thank you for welcoming us back to your city and for your enthusiasm and support for the Royal Canadian Air Force. Remember that – every day – we live the words of our motto, which are inscribed on our new Colour.

Sic Itur Ad Astra. Such is the pathway to the stars.”

As the commander of the RCAF concluded his remarks, a representative of nearly every aircraft flown by the Air Force roared through the sky above Toronto, to the delight of spectators young and old. The “parade in the sky” concluded with the Canadian Forces Snowbirds and the CF-18 Demo Hornet, sporting a paint scheme honouring the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation.

Finally, the new Colours were “marched past” and then, with the playing of the National Anthem, the ceremony drew to a close. The Royal Canadian Air Force has new Colours, reflecting its new name and insignia, and the proud airmen and airwomen of Canada’s Air Force have written another chapter in their history and heritage as they continue to serve Canadians proudly and professionally.

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