The number of Port Alberni’s veterans of the First and Second World Wars, and campaigns such as the Korean or Vietnam wars, are dwindling. When we see these veterans in uniform, be they members who saw battle, supported their brethren or entered areas of conflict on peacekeeping missions, we see the way they are today: navy blue blazers, chests full of medals, faces lined with character.
Last year, freelance writer and photographer Sonja Drinkwater approached eight veterans of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 293 and asked them to share a photo from when they served with their respective military branch, as well as a description of their role. She then took a photograph of the veterans as they are now.
The project was so popular that she has approached six more veterans this year. They are all active members of the Legion. If you know of a Port Alberni veteran who deserves to be featured, reach out to us at email@example.com.
Ron Simpson joined the Royal Canadian Navy in March 1963, in Edmonton, Alta.
Simpson was born in landlocked Vegreville, Alta., but from an early age he set his sights on a service aboard ships. “I said in my Grade 9 yearbook that I would joining the Navy,” he recalled.
“I went to Cornwallis, Nova Scotia for basic training. Then I was posted to HMCS Naden, Victoria. I was only there for three months before being posted to the ship HMCS Ste. Therese for eight months.” The Ste. Therese was originally commissioned on May 28, 1944 in Levis, Quebec as a River Class frigate and was dispatched to Northern Ireland from Halifax, Nova Scotia during the Second World War. After spending a number of years in reserve she was re-commissioned on Jan. 22, 1955 as a Prestonian Class ocean escort, serving in Esquimalt, B.C. until she was “paid off” on Jan. 30, 1967, according to Canada’s naval history.
After his stint on the Ste. Therese, Simpson was given a Navy apprenticeship and trained as a hull technician. “I went back to Naden for Fleet school for about 33 months,” he said.
As part of his training Simpson went to sea on the destroyer escort HMCS Mackenzie for six months. He returned to Naden and finished his apprenticeship.
“I went on HMCS Yukon (a Mackenzie-class destroyer escort) until my release Sept 19, 1969.”
“I went as far south as Valtriso, Chile and all through Central America and to the tip of South America, and to Pearl Harbour, Oahu.”
Buchanan moved to Port Alberni in 1969 after his release. He had been a member of the Legion in Victoria from 1963 and joined the Port Alberni Legion when he moved to the central Vancouver Island city.