ESTEVAN - Local residents are encouraged to attend events that will take place next month in honour of a grim moment in Estevan's history.
Activities will happen from July 7-9 to pay tribute to the 21 members of the Royal Canadian Air Force – 20 pilots and one crew member – who died in a plane crash south of the city on Sept. 15, 1946. The event was to happen last year for the 75th anniversary of the tragedy, but plans had to be shelved due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Committee member Marie Calder said the efforts are coming together nicely. There is a committee of four people, with Calder joined by Allison Holzer, Lois Wilson and Wayne Younghusband. Additional people from the community are helping out.
"I'm really hoping that the community, not just Estevan, but anyone who is interested in honouring those who served [will attend]," said Calder.
She cited men and women of the Canadian Forces, police officers and so many others as people who served.
"Our safety and our freedom isn't free, and we really have this opportunity now to show our gratitude through the 21 airmen. We're hoping that people will come on out."
The crash will be commemorated in Regina and Estevan. Family members of the crash victims will gather with Lieutenant Governor Russ Mirasty at Government House in Regina on July 7. Then the focus will shift to Estevan.
On July 8 at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., there will be tours of Lester Hinzman's carved wooden monument and aviation collection. The tours will depart the Estevan Court House at 9:15 a.m. or 1:45 p.m. and are expected to take about an hour.
There will also be presentations at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. by Craig Bird at the Estevan branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. Bird, who is the founder of the South East Military Museums, will speak on the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
Rides on a Tiger Moth, Cornell and Harvard aircraft from the Brandon Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum will be available from 11:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Rides must be pre-brooked by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Payment can be by credit card, cash or cheque on the day of the flight. Pilots and passengers must be fully vaccinated against COVID, including boosters where eligible.
A memorial dedication will occur at the crash site at 10 a.m. on July 9. It is located on the access road for the Woodlawn Regional Park's Boundary Dam site. SaskPower, the City of Estevan and the Rural Municipality of Estevan provided support for the monument.
There will also be a community social with family and friends, plus the Estevan Flying Club's annual fly-in. Lunch will be available.
Banners for each of the airmen will be hanging up around the city, thanks to the support of Bird, who has had banners completed of veterans in the community.
Calder noted that after the crash in 1946, there was tremendous support for a mass funeral for the 21 airmen.
"Literally, the people stepped right up to the plate. They hosted families. Often it was the wives, the newly-widowed women, who were trying to understand what had happened, and trying to deal with the change in their lives, and Estevan opened the doors to them," said Calder.
Estevan didn't have enough hotel rooms at the time to accommodate everyone coming to the community.
Thousands of people turned out to see the funeral procession for the airmen.
She also hopes that local residents are very welcoming to the families who are coming for the commemoration.
While they won't have families of all of the victims, there will be children of four people who died, along with grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
They hoped to have siblings of the airmen present, but age and travel costs kept them from coming.
"We can't put it off anymore. This has to be it," said Calder. "In spite of all of the challenges, we are excited to have people coming out from the United States, and of course from all across Canada," said Calder.
Calder is the author of Together Forever in the Clouds, which was released last year and has profiles of each of the 21 airmen who died in the crash. She spent four years searching for their families. She was also on the committee for the Forever in the Clouds monument, carved by Darren Jones, that honours the victims of the crash.
The organizers hope these men will never be forgotten, and that closure may come to families who thought their loved ones' service to country had been forgotten.