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THEN AND NOW: Air force was ‘safer’ option, says 34-year veteran from Port Alberni

Kirk Harrison was deployed 27 times around the world with CAF

For the fifth year in a row, freelance writer and photographer Sonja Drinkwater is telling the stories of veterans from the Alberni Valley.

This year she talked to two veterans who shared a photo from when they served with their respective military branch, as well as some of their experiences while serving with Canada’s military. She then took a photo of the veterans as they are now. If you know of a Port Alberni veteran who deserves to be featured in a future edition of Then & Now, please contact us via email at or call 250-723-6399.


Special to the AV News

Kirk Harrison waited for two years to serve in Canada’s Air Force. The wait was worth it: after he was accepted in 1983, Harrison, from Port Alberni, served 34 busy years in 27 different postings.

Harrison was a land surveyor when in 1981 he decided it might be safer to enroll in the air force than continue with his current career. He had many “unfortunate accidents” out in the bush, he recalled. “I rode a landslide all the way to the bottom, had a pine tree land on me and I was almost hit by a car.”

Harrison was originally from Edson, Alberta and his parents are the late Ken and Pat Harrison. Although a member of the air force, Harrison served aboard many of Canada’s naval ships, repairing helicopters. He served on the HMCS Huron, HMCS Annapolis, HMCS Protector, HMCS Preserver and HMCS Provider.

He went to Cold Lake, Alberta where he worked on the CF-18 Hornet fighter jets. He spent time with 408 Squadron in Edmonton where he also worked on helicopters. He then went to Greenwood, Nova Scotia and worked on the CP-140 Aurora Maritime Patrol Aircraft. He spent six months in Africa on the USNS Mercy, an American hospital ship.

“I have been deployed 27 times and that included to Afghanistan, Bosnia, Haiti, Libya, Italy, England, Scotland, France and Germany. The circumstances ranged from fires to floods to earthquakes. I also worked in search and rescue,” he said.

“My last work was in Victoria where I worked in the calibration centre for the air force to calibrate all of the test equipment in the western region which included B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan as well as the Northwest Territories.”

He calibrated equipment such as multimeters and tone generators, used to test voltage, current and acoustics. “If it was a piece of test equipment, we calibrated it,” he said.

Harrison and his wife, Dianne Hemming, moved to Port Alberni after he retired in May 2017.

“We liked living on the Island and this was also the most affordable area to move to,” Harrison explained.

“Since we moved here I volunteer with the Salvation Army and attend Grace Point Church.”