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Central Okanagan  

From the Okanagan to war

The men and women of the Okanagan have, for decades and decades, made a lasting impact in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Hundreds upon hundreds of men and women have left their Okanagan homes to fight overseas for our country, many have not returned.

The cenotaph in Kelowna's City Park bears the names of 238 local members in uniform who died serving our country in WWI, WWII and the Korean War.

According to Tom Wolf, President of The Okanagan Military Museum Society, Okanagan residents fought hard and often for their country.

“The Central Okanagan has a long history of service, from the first World War to the second World War and the Korean War, even to Afghanistan,” explains Wolf who says 30 local soldiers served in Afghanistan and one came back severely wounded.

“We continue to have members of the military and the police, from the Central Okanagan, who serve on behalf of their country at war,” adds Wolf. “There is a significant chunk of, if you will, new veterans who continue that legacy of service from the Central Okanagan.”

As Wolf notes that legacy began in WWI where in Kelowna for example, given the size of the community at the time, local men went off to war in larger numbers, per capita, then most other communities across the country.

“You know at the start of the first World War there was probably less than 2,000 people in Kelowna and when you consider approximately 134 didn't come back, that is a big chunk of the community,” explains Wolf. “Then in the second World War, Kelowna was probably four or five thousand people and you had literally hundreds and hundreds of folks from Kelowna joining the Army, Airforce and Navy, with a significant amount of them not coming back.”

Wolf says that it is nearly impossible to determine exactly how many residents left the Okanagan at any given time throughout history to serve, but he knows it represents a large amount.

“What we can say is that a significant portion of the population left their jobs as printers, bank clerks, orchardists, farmers, all those kinds of things, put their uniforms on and served overseas...and there were enormous causalities that were certainly reflected here in the Central Okanagan.”

The Okanagan also has a good history of supporting its veterans says Wolf. Shown clearly last year when the downtown Kelowna remembrance ceremony had its biggest turnout yet. Wolf feels that the renewed support may be due to the increase of recent causalities overseas and on Canadian soil.

“It re-awakened the Canadian public's recognition of the service and sacrifice of our military. Instead of it being your grandfather's war, it is young men and women now and it reminds people it is important to be there at Remembrance Day,” says Wolf. “To recognize the sacrifice of those brave men and women over the last hundred years.”

A point brought closer to home than ever before with the murder of two Canadian soldiers in recent weeks on Canadian soil.

“Two serving Canadian military personnel were killed while wearing their uniforms and doing their jobs in Canada, it really rings home for a lot of people. Remembrance Day isn’t a day off, Remembrance Day is a day to remember the sacrifice that our serving military have put in for our behalf.”

In light of recent events, Wolf doesn't feel the ceremonies tomorrow will be much different than years past, but does feel their impact will be more deeply felt this year.

“It is an important time for us to recognize that, you know sometimes. we are still at war,” says Wolf.  

Castanet will be going live from the West Kelowna Remerance Day service on Nov. 11.

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