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New memorials bring Canada’s military history to the fore in Langley

The Walk to Remember and the Gapyeong Memorial Stone are both in a local arboretum
Michael Chang will see a new memorial garden built around the Gapyeong Memorial Stone over the next year. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Langley’s oldest cenotaphs go back to the 1920s, built in the aftermath of the First World War.

But in recent years, new memorials have been built, including two in one of the community’s newest parks.

The Derek Doubleday Arboretum hosts the Walk for the Fallen, a memorial to the 158 Canadian soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan, and the Gapyeong Stone, a memorial in honour of Canadian soldiers who fought in Korea, in particular in one key battle.

The memorials mean that the park now plays host to visits from members of the Royal Canadian Legion and the Korean War Veterans Association, as well as veterans from the much more recent war in Afghanistan.

The Walk to Remember memorial was founded by siblings Michael and Elizabeth Pratt in 2010.

Michael Pratt, who was recently elected to Langley Township council, was just 12 when he visited Juno Beach in France with his father. He was inspired by seeing the trees planted there for Canadians who had lost their lives in the Second World War.

When he returned to Canada, Pratt said he wanted to do something for the soldiers who were dying in Afghanistan, the war that was taking place in his time.

“It was easy in a way, as a 13- or 12-year-old kid to get something done, because nobody wants to say no to you,” Pratt quipped.

With his older sister Elizabeth, Pratt would raise sponsorship funding to plant 158 trees along a winding path in the new parkland off Fraser Highway.

A commemorative sculpture rises from within a central platform, symbolizing a tree whose life has been cut short. On a metal ribbon wrapped around the sculpture are the names of Canada’s Afghanistan war dead.

The total project raised more than $100,000 by the time it was finished, and the main commemorative structure was sponsored by the federal government.

Having a grove of trees makes the losses tangible, Pratt said.

“The numbers kind of become meaningless to people,” he said.

But the trees the sculpture have provided a physical place to remember the Afghanistan war dead.

There have been both official and unofficial events at the Walk to Remember, Pratt said, including gatherings on Remembrance Days and visits by veterans of the war, retired soldiers, and family members of the fallen.

READ MORE: Tree dream halfway complete

The other memorial also marks Canada’s participating in a war that is less well remembered than the First and Second World Wars.

The Gapyeong Stone commemorates Canadian troops who participated in the Battle of Kapyong, now known as Gapyeong County, in South Korea.

A small group of Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand troops, with some tank forces from the U.S., held off a Chinese advance headed for Seoul.

The project began with a request to Michael Chang, a Korean-Canadian businessman living in Langley.

“The Korean War has been a forgotten war for a long time,” said Chang.

Chang was contacted by officials from Gapyeong County about placing the first memorial stone in Canada. They sent the chunk of rock from Gapyeong – it was so heavy it required an entire shipping container to itself – but Chang had to find a site to host it.

He remembers that the first time he told most people, including local politicians, about the project, they had never heard of the battle. But they quickly became supportive.

Education is a big part of what the Gapyeong Stone and events connected to it are about.

Last spring, to mark the anniversary of the battle, Chang was a key organizer behind an event that brought together Royal Canadian Legion members, Korean-Canadian veterans, and local high school students.

“We have to try to give the torch to the next generation,” Chang said.

He noted that many veterans of the Korean War are quite elderly, and soon they will be gone.

“But their legacy should be remembered,” he said.

Chang’s next project is seeing through a traditional Korean garden around the stone. The local Korean-Canadian community has raised $25,000 for the project, and the Aldergrove legion has donated another $10,000, Chang said.

READ MORE: Memorial Garden on its way for Langley park

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Michael Pratt was still a young teenager when he began lobbying for the Walk to Remember memorial to the Afghanistan war dead in Langley. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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