846, La Ronge, Saskatchewan S0J
IN THE NEWS
article previously appeared in the Northern Visitor,
names live on
During the Second World War,
more than 91,000 men and women from Saskatchewan offered their service to
Canada to secure our vision of freedom and democracy. Of the brave
souls who dedicated their efforts to this mission, 3,800 did not survive,
leaving a deep hole of sorrow with their Saskatchewan family and friends.
As time moved on, the memory of
these souls faded into history. Some families abandoned their
recollection due to pain, others lost the stories as generations passed by
and, for some, time has frozen, grasping the moment like an antique locket
laden with meaningful snapshots of time.
For all these people, there is
a way to commemorate their lost relatives with dignity and respect while
obtaining a meaningful tribute for their loved ones. Doug Chisholm, an
aircraft mechanic from La Ronge, has ingeniously devised a way of providing
those families wit ha lasting memento of Saskatchewan servicemen.
From 1950 to 1970 the
Saskatchewan Government undertook the process of naming geo-memorial
locations in the northern area of the province, identifying locations with
the names of approximately 3800 fallen servicemen. These locations
consist of various lakes, islands and bays spread throughout the region.
According the Chisholm, the government tried to notify families of the
process, but by that time the relatives had often moved on and were not
aware that the province had done this.
Chisholm, and avid bush pilot
and aerial photographer, received a phone call one day from a friend who
asked him if he would take a picture of an island on Lac La Ronge that had
been named after a young airman from Saskatoon.
"So I found the island
with my maps, circled and took the pictures. After that I landed and
got some sand and rocks from the shoreline and sent it down.
Ironically, she got it just before she passed away. It was really
special for her.
After the undertaking, Chisholm
started to think more about it. He thought about who this fellow was
and what happened to him. He felt that in the past he had known a lot
about the Second World War, but this incident made him realize that there
was still a lot to learn.
Three and a half years later,
Chisholm completed a mammoth project. He has photographed 2,700 of the
3,800 geo-memorial locations, and devised a method of presenting the
photographs to interested relatives and friends of the commemorated
a database system of his collected photographs and a list of the men, their
rank, hometown, and circumstances related to their casualty, Chisholm can
create a befitting visual tribute to the men. The tribute, available
for a fee of $100 which covers fuel and other expenses, is a wonderful
symbol to keep the memory of these men alive, said Chisholm.
lot of people are moved by the tributes and the recollections they bring,''
he said. "I think people appreciate the fact that they're able to
see a photograph of the geo-memorial location, and then see it on the map
and pull out the information in this format. Subsequently, when they
pass it down, sisters and brothers will get it and they'll give it to their
children, and the information is recorded and not lost.
has now sold around 400 of these tributes. At the beginning, it was a
rocky road for the business, but through word of mouth, his unique service
has found many happy Saskatchewan families and friends, eager to put closure
on the incident last century.
I first started, I tried to contact families", said Chisholm. "I
would try to figure out where the families were from, and I'd make a phone
call or write a letter. But I got to feel like a vacuum cleaner
salesman. A lot of the people didn't know what to think. But as time went by
and I did tributes for different families. word of mouth was it.
Someone would tell someone else who they knew lost a brother in the Second
World War about what I was doing, and then the phone would ring.
That's how it unraveled."
Chisholm performs this service because he feels it is interesting and worthwhile. He has no grants, and it is funded entirely through his banker and the selling of the tributes.
This article previously appeared in
WESTERN PEOPLE, November 5, 1998,
Many geographical areas are named after war
Doug Chisholm's voice catches in his throat when he talks about his long term project. The pilot and aircraft engineer from La Ronge, Saskatchewan is documenting the northern lakes, islands, bays and rivers named after Saskatchewan's 3,800 Second World War fatalities.
He is putting together tributes to the army, navy and air force members who died between 1939 and 1945 with aerial photographs and personal notes for the families. Often they know that something had been named after a relative but they have no idea what or where it is, Chisholm said. Most are happy to receive a phone call or letter from his company, Woodland Aerial Photography, identifying the site and offering the photo-feature memorial at a cost of $100.
One fall day, he stopped his plane at four or five places and told residents about his work. "One guy that I talked to, he said 'Oh, gee. I lost a brother in the war, but I don't think they named anything after him." Chisholm checked his files for the name and found some rapids named for his brother. "And he couldn't believe it. He was just so delighted about that."
For several weeks each year between June and September, the former bush pilot happily climbs, banks and dives his float plane around the north taking pictures of these geographic features. This year. he photographed 1,000 sites. During the long winter months he tracks down surviving family members and gathers information on the individuals who were killed.
Chisholm is a maintenance crew chief with La Ronge's fire-fighting water-bomber fleet. His aerial photography sideline operates from the recreation room of the lake view home that he shares with his wife Kathy, a nursing coordinator, and their two children. Across the road, Chisholm's silver, black and yellow Cessna 180 rocks gently in La Ronge's rippling offshore water, ready for his next takeoff, often with his flying dog, Odie.
Chisholm, 45, was born in Scotland and has Second World War roots himself. His father was a Leading Aircraftsman-mechanic in Britain, and then South Africa. Two uncles, his father's brothers, were Presbyterian chaplains. Another uncle, who went on to become a BOAC pilot, "was my hero," Chisholm said. He was a Lancaster gunner and navigator on an incredible 78 bombing missions.
His father-in-law, Art Densley, from Estevan, Saskatchewan, was in the Royal Canadian Engineers. Chisholm remembers taking Densley up for a flight around La La Ronge, circling island and looking at the shorelines. "They were named after fellows he went to school with," he said, noting 42 from Estevan had died overseas.
On one September day this year, Chisholm flew off to photograph Gibson Islands, Peters Bay, Middlemas Lake, Main Island, Lacy Lake, Spencer Bay, Kidd Island and Corpach Lake. Then he work his way back across the Wapawekka Hills and shot down to Piprell Lake, a popular trout fishing lake. "Piprell Lake is named after an air force officer who died in the war. This summer there were a couple crewmen that survived that mission, apparently. They came out from England and visited the site.
On another September flight, with passengers accompanying him, Chisholm landed at Kidd Island off Nut Point, northeast of Lac La Ronge. There he showed a bronze plaque attached to a rock face on the north side of the island. Gleaming in the sun were the words: "Kidd Island. Named in memory of P/O (Pilot Officer) L. D. Kidd, 1923-1944. Killed in action." The plaque was installed in 1962 by the pilots officer's brother, Frederick Kiss, from Saskatoon, who himself served with the Regina Rifles Regiment and at Dieppe. The tribute Chisholm put together includes a colour photo of Kidd Island in fall colours, the coordinates 55degrees, 12 minutes North, 105 Degrees, 03 minutes West, personal information and a wartime photo of the pilot in front of his Spitfire.
Dreaver Lake, about 50 miles north of La Ronge, is named for Sgt. Harvey Dreaver. The son of Mistawasis Cree Chief Joe Dreaver, he was killed October 6, 1944 in Belgium. In 1948, he was awarded the Belgium Croix de Guerre, with palm, " for outstanding contributions toward the liberation of Belgium."
Beginning in the early 1950s Saskatchewan was the first province in Canada to complete the naming of the geographic sites in memory of the war dead. "Manitoba finished in '92. I think Ontario started it, but I don't believe they've completed the task," said Chisholm.
From his research, Chisholm learns of the heritage of Saskatchewan and gets a sense of the war period and the sacrifices that were made. "It's very, very heart-wrenching," he said.
"When I get contacted by families, and they ask me about this lake or an island, and I am able to tell them about it, and they go, 'Wow. I didn't know that.' That's just really fulfilling. It's wonderful, satisfying."
"The names live on."
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