Students from Ponoka Secondary Campus (PSC) will soon be able to return to the battlefields and burial sites of fallen Canadian soldiers as part of Broncs’ World Tour.
For more than a decade, teacher Ron Labrie has guided his students in a journey to discover and uncover the biographies of all Ponoka and area soldiers killed in action and ultimately visit their gravesites.
“It’s about icebergs,” said Labrie. “The gravestone is the tip of the iceberg, but what is the story that lies beneath? Who is the soldier; what did they do in service to the country and who were they as a young person in Ponoka before the war?”
The Cenotaph Project and Broncs’ Word Tour was born out of the Year of the Veteran in 2005, where educators from around the county were invited to participate in a battlefield tour. That in combination with the 90th Anniversary of Vimy Ridge in 2007, gave Labrie, an educator now for 30 years, the idea to begin the project.
“Due to logistics and costs soldiers are buried where they died,” said Labrie. “For many years there was limited information available about the names of the young people listed on our local cenotaphs.”
Over the past decade PSC students have uncovered the stories of many of the names listed on the cenotaph in Ponoka.
“As we uncovered this decade-long project, we found some on the cenotaph that actually survived the war,” said Labrie. “There are some no matter how hard we’ve researched we can’t find any information, and then there are the many, many that were killed in service.”
Of the First World War names on the Ponoka Cenotaph, there are five remaining names for students to research out of 42, and five remaining on the Second World War list of names, out of 30.
“The research is the big part. This is a great example of project-based learning,” said Labrie. “When students receive that file, it is a bundle of paper, but when they are standing at the gravesite it totally changes everything.”
As part of honouring the fallen, and serving as a living memory in the school, Ponoka Secondary Campus has developed the Hall of Valour posting the names of Ponoka and area veterans. Classrooms bear the name of battlefields of Canadian soldiers, such as Flanders, or Juno Beach and more recently Korea and Afghanistan.
“You have to work at remembrance,” said Labrie.
The Wolf Creek Board of Trustees approved in principle for students to travel overseas again in the 2022/23 school year for the Broncs’ World Tour. The approval will be reviewed in advance of the trip in the new school year. For the past two years the tour was canceled due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.