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The Legacy Tour

Posted On: 10/19/2016

Nervous and excited, I parked my car and made my way to Griesbach Statue, the meeting point of the Legacy Tour. A week ago, I was on the bus making my daily commute when I spotted an ad in the Metro newspaper for the Legacy Tour, a free guided walking tour around the Village At Griesbach with an emphasis on Canadian military history. I’m the first to admit that this activity may not be the coolest thing for a 20-year-old to be doing on a Sunday afternoon but hey, who said I wanted to be the next Kendall Jenner? The truth is, I am not at all remotely interested in history, let alone military history. After my grandfather’s passing last year (he served in WWII), I thought this would be a neat thing to partake in as it’ll allow me to better understand him and his former lifestyle.  

I was greeted by two incredibly friendly gentlemen who immediately offered me a complimentary granola bar and bottle of water. I’m not a person who turns down free food so I happily munched away as the other attendees slowly trickled in. The tour commenced promptly at 1pm with an introduction from our tour guide, Merrick. He told us that this is a very casual tour, that we could come and go as we please, and that there wouldn’t be a surprise quiz at the end. That’s good considering I was still recovering from the night before (don’t judge me).

We were standing at our first stop already: Griesbach Statue. Merrick explained that the Village At Griesbach used to be known as CFB Edmonton or Griesbach Barracks prior to its closure in 2000. The rights to the land, which contained 750 PMQs, were transferred to Canada Lands Company to allow them to repurpose and redevelop the military base into a residential neighbourhood. Today, the Village At Griesbach contains many newly built homes offering both residents and visitors a glimpse into its historical past. One example is naming the streets in the village after military personnel (ex. Gault Boulevard) and wars (ex. Kapyonge Ave). As well, I learned that Major-General William Antrobus Griesbach was not only Edmonton’s youngest Mayor, but Canada’s youngest also; he was elected into office at the age of 29! Heck, perhaps I can give him a run for his money come the next election.

Turning around, the second stop was the amphitheatre at Patricia Park. The park is dedicated to the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI). Names of fallen soldiers from this infantry (known as Pats, Patricias, or Princess Pats) were etched into two walls located along the steps. At the base of the amphitheater was a time capsule (to be opened in August 2064) as well as four trees to honour the four Edmontonians who lost their lives in Afghanistan.

Next up was the replica of a Bailey Bridge. Merrick told us this type of bridge aided the Allies in WWII as no special tools or heavy equipment were needed to assemble it. Bailey bridges are small and light thus easy to transport between locations. The reason the bridge was a point of interest is because Bailey bridges were Canadian designed and created. These bridges were one of Canada’s many contributions to WWII. While we were strolling across the bridge, Merrick surprised us when he noted this replica contains original pieces of real Bailey bridges used in WWII. The original pieces were shipped from France, it was difficult for me to fathom that I was walking on the same platform soldiers marched on back in WWII. Talk about a #throwbackthursday eh?

Our next stop was Bedford Basin, a site dedicated to Canada’s Navy. At the entrance of the basin was a Kisbie Ring, a monument that pays tribute to fallen sailors. Further down the path was a recreation of the bow of HMCS Edmonton - 703, a Kingston-class coastal defence vessel. As Merrick explained the features of this ship, I went to the tip of the bow, spread both my arms as wide as possible, and pretended to be Rose from the Titanic. Hey, I know it’s cheesy but we’ll see who’s the one laughing when I get 500 likes on my Instagram photo.

I won’t lie, I definitely was not prepared for the next part. They certainly weren’t kidding about the walking part of this tour because we trekked up a 90-foot high hill at Central Hill Park. Before embarking on the hike up the hill, Merrick showed us Griesbach’s public garden where anyone can get a plot of land from the City of Edmonton and grow their own produce including pumpkins and cabbage. At the time there was no one in the garden and as tempted as I was to hop in and snack on a few carrots (who’s going to notice one or two missing right?), I restrained myself. Now comes the tough part, the hike. For the average person, the inclination isn’t too bad; in fact, it’s a breeze in the park for most. But I haven’t been to the gym for weeks ... fine, months, so I had a bit of tough time. On the way up Merrick constantly encouraged us to not give up as the view was, I quote, “to die for”. Considering I was about to pass out, saying I had high expectations was an understatement. Thankfully, Merrick delivered. The view was stunning; you could see Edmonton for miles and also downtown’s beautiful skyline. I spotted a couple of runners behind us stretching and wondered if any of them would be interested in being my personal trainer.

Moving on, we visited Roundel Lake and the Ad Astra monument. This portion of the tour focused on the Canadian Air Force and that was where my grandfather served! Ad Astra means “to the stars” and that’s the official motto of the Canadian Air Force. The Ad Astra monument is a 10-meter high stainless steel structure built in the shape of a star burst, a well-known aerobatic manoeuvre. It was interesting to note that the concrete, stone and paved surface we were standing on was in the shape of an airplane. How cute! Merrick explained that the pavement served as a symbolic runway for three famous aircrafts: the Spitfire, Avro Arrow, and C-130 Hercules. I thought that was a pretty cool way to showcase the different aircrafts used in the military and was really impressed that they were done to scale also.

Our last stop was Flanders Fields Park. Located within the park is a bronze display of the poem In Flanders Field by John McCrae. After serving in the Second Battle of Ypres, John McCrae wrote the poem because of the staggering loss of life he witnessed as a doctor. McCrae threw the poem into a trash can but a nurse stumbled upon it, retrieved it, and eventually sent it to a newspaper, who as fate would have it – published it. And, the rest is as they say history. Or in this case legacy. Wow, what a wicked story! Merrick also told us that the red poppies we’ve come to know as symbolizing Remembrance Day as Canadians, aren’t universal. Some countries use blue poppies instead.

All in all, I had an amazing time on this tour. I came in not having a great deal of interest in Canadian military history and now I’m leaving with a thirst to learn more. Thankfully, there are storyboards scattered at each stop along our tour offering additional information so look out Griesbach, I’ll be back in you real soon.