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FERGUS, Ont. - "Art is long, and time is fleeting/And our hearts, though stout and brave/Still like muffled drums are beating/Funeral marches to the grave." American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote these words in his work, A Psalm of...


FERGUS, Ont. – “Art is long, and time is fleeting/And our hearts, though stout and brave/Still like muffled drums are beating/Funeral marches to the grave.” American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote these words in his work, A Psalm of Life, nearly 175 years ago, but the concept of art’s longevity versus the brevity of our lives is relevant to an initiative touching the trucking industry called Portraits of Honour.

Portraits of Honour is a trailer-sized mural that features the faces of the many Canadian soldiers, sailors and aircrew who have lost their lives in Afghanistan. The project started in early 2009, when artist David Sophe was watching a television report on Canada’s 100th fallen soldier in Afghanistan and decided he wanted to make a tribute. Two-and-a-half years and 2,000 hours of painting later, the portrait now measures about 40 feet wide by 10 feet high.

The mural is currently on a coast-to-coast tour, thanks in part to the involvement of Ayr, Ont.-based carrier Trans-Frt McNamara, which provided both the rig and driver for the months-long trip.

“When contacted, (company owners) Greg (Palmer) and Ward (Tregoning) offered us assistance, without hesitation,” said Bruce Lloyd, national project manager for Portraits of Honour. “We spoke to them about the project and they were intrigued and in a heartbeat became our national carrier.”

“We have been very blessed and very fortunate to receive a truck for the use of this whole tour from Trans-Frt McNamara. They have been very generous in helping us out, and a driver, Paul Corey.  He will stay with us for the whole duration of this tour,” added Marni DeRoche of the Canuck Club of Hamilton-Stoney Creek, who works as a tour stop coordinator for Portraits of Honour in Hamilton. “We are so grateful for all the help that we have received from the trucking industry.”

Trans-Frt’s involvement spurred on the interest of its suppliers as well, including Castrol.

“The truck that is pulling the trailer for the tour is a brand new 2011 truck and requires diesel exhaust fluid. We manufacture it with our H2 Blue brand, so I said I was going to give them free DEF for the tour,” said J.P. Soucie, HD specialist, Ontario West, for Wakefield Canada, the Canadian distributor for Castrol. “We stepped that up and said that we were going to give them free oil changes for the entire tour for not only the truck, but also for the support crew that goes with the trailer so that they can help defer some of the costs that are associated with the tour.

“I was actually privileged enough to be able to see the actual Portraits of Honour stop in Napanee and it is very emotional when you see the family members looking at the portraits of a fallen son or dad,” Soucie added. “How can you not support something like that?”

Taking the helm as national partner is Kin Canada (both Sopha and Lloyd are Kinsmen), which Lloyd says has “done itself proud” by “allowing us to bring Canadians together to remember, honour and celebrate our Canadian Forces. Kin Canada, their local clubs and the thousands of members  are truly the inspiration behind the tour.”

Adding to the emotion at each tour stop, organizers have been attempting to visit the hometown of each fallen soldier.

“At each location the reaction is a whole array of emotions: grief, sorrow, loss, but then remembrance and celebration that they – the faces on the mural – did make a difference in the lives of those they tried to protect,” said Lloyd, whose own father was a wireless operator and tail gunner in the Second World War. “To the folks that travel with the tour, I tell them that this experience is a game changer; it will change your outlook and the way you currently think about things.”

In October, the tour will find itself in northern Ontario, before heading east to visit all four Atlantic Provinces.

Sophe has said the mural will not be complete until all Canadian troops return from their current mission in Afghanistan, slated for 2014. At that point, the mural will find a “resting place of prominence,” according to Lloyd, adding that a tour of a few national museums may be in the cards first.

In the end, though their lives may have been “fleeting” as described in Longfellow’s poem, through Sophe’s art, the memory of these soldiers will live on.

“When a parent speaks about their son or daughter…they thank us for keeping their child’s memory alive, so they will not be forgotten,” Lloyd says. For more information, visit www.portraitsofhonour.ca.


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