Over 1,000 people attended Portraits of Honour tour in town

The Portraits of Honour completed its penultimate stop on its national tour by attracting over 1,000 people here.

“Fantastic,” was how national tour manager Bruce Lloyd, a Fergus resident, described the event. “It was a great turnout. We had lots of kids from the schools. There was pretty steady traffic all day long.”

The event began with a Remembrance Service and concluded with a dinner.

The Portraits of Honour tour shows off the work of artist and Kinsmen Club member Dave Sopha. He painted his first work ever in oils – the faces of every Canadian who gave the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan.

That portrait also includes over 82,106 poppies in it, and Sopha said by the time it is completed (he had painted 156 of Canada’s 157 Armed Services personnel who were killed) it will have over 116,000 poppies, representing all the fallen from World War I and World War II.

Over 200 people, including grade 4, 5 and 6 students from Victoria Public School, were on hand for the opening ceremony. Flags represent each fallen solider and they were waving proudly in a stiff breeze on a sunny but cold day.

The students were each given small Canadian flags, and after the Remembrance service, they mounted the semi-trailer platform for a close look at the huge painting. Many of them took advantage of the opportunity to obtain an autograph from Sopha.

Ed Wynette helped arrange the flag stands and was part of the western leg of the national tour. He said some of the most emotional moments came when it visited Canadian Forces bases. He was part of the tour as a worker for nearly three months of the just over six-month long event.

He added Prince William and his bride Kate attended the show in Calgary and other visitors to Portraits of Honour included Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General David Johnson.

“They laid down their wreaths and said hello to the team,” Wynette remembered.

He added young students were a highlight, and in Kenora, over 700 of them attended.

Victoria Terrace Grade 4 and 5 teacher Krista Pederson said it was an easy decision. The information about the tour reached the school, and the junior teachers decided to bring their students down to the Fergus Legion.

Lloyd told the crowd Sopha decided to do the painting to honour each of the fallen. He specifically told the students “You need to be aware there is a price for freedom. It does come at a cost.”

Legion president Ray Pearse said the Legion was honoured to host the tour.

“Being an ex-serviceman, I know the price these people paid,” he said of those included on the painting.

Elora Legion president Ashley Woods, added, “We are blessed in Canada. May we never forget their sacrifice.”

Centre Wellington Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj said to Sopha: “Dave, you have done a remarkable job … of bringing to us the faces of the fallen.” She also thanked Lloyd for all his work.

Sopha told the crowd it was the Kinsmen Club and Kin Canada that helped the tour become a reality and the team that oversaw it is “right here in Fergus.”

He said he is the uncle of a serviceman from the Fergus area who served in Afghanistan, and he is happy that man returned safely.

But others did not. “There were 100 families [at that time] that couldn’t say the same thing,” he said of his decision to paint the portrait.

He said it takes about 60 hours to paint a single face. He noted in his other artistic style, air brush, the work lasts up to 40 years, but an oil painting can last up to five centuries and beyond.

To date, over one million people have seen the painting, which headed back to Cambridge (Sopha’s home) for its final appearance on Dec. 10.

Sopha said 85% of the families of the fallen had attended the tour.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” he said.

Lloyd said the dinner held Friday night at the Fergus Legion attracted over 120 people. They heard from speaker Terry Kelly, who wrote A Pittance of Time.

Kelly, who is blind and from Halifax, was in a drug store one Nov. 11 before going to a Remembrance Day service and got delayed. All the staff stopped at 11am for two minutes of silence. Kelly heard an irate customer berate a silent clerk for failing to check him out.

Lloyd said Kelly viewed that two minutes as a pittance of time to honour those who fought and died for freedom – and wrote the song.

Kelly is today an international motivational speaker and Lloyd called him fabulous.

Lloyd said when Kelly was young, he was taught at a school for the blind by exceptional teachers, and “He sees a lot better than those of us who are sighted.”

Lloyd said Kelly was a key speaker when the national tour was launched, and “I said, ‘We want you here.’ He came.”

Other speakers at the  Portraits of Honouor dinner included Ross-Zuj,

Kin Canada national president Dave Ronson, Silver Cross mother Bev McCaw and Sopha.

Lloyd said the Fergus event turned out to also be a great way for him to wind down his job as national tour director and gave him a chance to thank all those people who worked so hard in the background to make it a success.

“I’m absolutely delighted I got to be the national chair,” he said.

Sopha, who has visited Afghanistan, noted Canadians there not only fought, they taught the people there how to farm, operate a police force and military, and how to run a government.

He noted when the war broke out there was no education at all in the country for girls, but now there are schools everywhere and 1.2 million young girls are getting an education.

“When we leave, we’ll have done it properly,” Sopha said.