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It started with two: Fort Remembrance Day ceremony had humble beginnings

Friday marks the 17th anniversary of a meeting that triggered a groundswell of support for the Fort Langley Remembrance Day service.
Gord Gillard and Brenda Alberts visited Nov. 11, 2009, at the Fort Langley cenotaph, 10 years after they first met. The two revived Remembrance Day ceremonies in Fort Langley.

On Nov. 11, 1999 an elderly man walked into the Birthplace of B.C. Gallery gallery with a bee in his bonnet.

Gord Gillard was looking for mayoral hopeful Kurt Alberts, who at the time was at the Aldergrove Legion, attending the Remembrance Day service.

Kurt’s wife, Brenda, was at the gallery, and their chance meeting was the genesis of something remarkable – and enduring.

Brenda and Gord are no longer with us.

But their legacy is undeniable.

On June 11, 2014, Gord passed away at age 90 following a valiant attempt to recover from surgery.

Brenda lost her short battle with pancreatic cancer this past summer. She passed away peacefully July 25 at Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre.

What Gord and Brenda didn’t know, on that biting cold day 17 years ago, was they would help bring Remembrance Day services back to Fort Langley.

And oh, how it’s grown.

Thousands expected

Friday’s Fort Langley Remembrance Day ceremony at the Fort cenotaph is expected to draw thousands.

“He was very, very proud of what happened,” said Gord’s wife of 62 years, Eileen. “Each year more people arrived. That was one of his best accomplishments, he felt, in his lifetime.”

Kurt, meanwhile, realizes this Remembrance Day, without Brenda, will fill him with emotion.

“I can’t think of anything that would be more, in a way, heart wrenching, but also in many respects it will be a great, great tribute to Brenda, especially this year,” Kurt said.

This groundswell of support for the Fort Langley service came from humble beginnings.

The morning they met, a sharply-dressed Gord complained to Brenda that there was no Remembrance Day service at the cenotaph in the cemetery, across the road from the gallery.

“He pointed across the road and said, ‘There’s nothing happening there,’” Kurt related. “There’s no service. There’s a cenotaph, a veterans’ cemetery, but there’s no service.”

Brenda told him that there would be no use complaining to her husband as he had not yet been elected (he won the mayor’s seat later that month), and that even if Kurt was the mayor, Remembrance Day is not a municipal affair, it should be put on by the community.

It was almost 11 o’clock, so Brenda said “wait a minute” and went upstairs.

She returned with her coat and her father’s Bible which he had with him during his service in the navy.

Gord then introduced himself as a Second World War veteran –  he joined the Navy at age 16, and spent the bulk of his nine years with the service on a destroyer in the Atlantic transporting troops and equipment.

Together, they walked to the cenotaph and held their own improvised service.

They talked about the importance of the community’s historic cenotaph and the veterans’ section of the cemetery.

That’s when Brenda made a commitment to Gord. She assured him that next year there would be a real service.

And there was, with a reverend, hymns, a program and a couple dozen people joining in.

Each year, it grew, and grew, and grew, with the Fraser Blues doing a flypast.

Then, in 2011. Brenda championed the Rally Round the Flag Pole fundraiser to install a flag pole near the cenotaph.

The same year she invited the Kwantlen First Nation to be a formal part of the service.

“Brenda was really in her element,” Kurt said, regarding his wife’s efforts towards Remembrance Day in Fort Langley. “She worked so hard in terms of getting everything ready. Her heart was so much in it.”

Gord attended each year until his death two years ago.

Kurt said Gord was Brenda’s “inspiration.”

‘She Flew The Flag’

Gord’s and Brenda’s grave sites are near each other at Fort Langley Cemetery.

Brenda’s is next to her daughter, Stacey Ann’s, gravesite, and is the closest to the flag pole, which some refer to as “Brenda’s flagpole.”

And before this year’s Remembrance Day service, a granite bench given by an anonymous donor will be installed under a holly tree just a few steps from Brenda’s gravesite and the flag pole, with the inscription “Brenda Alberts, She Flew the Flag!”

Kurt said it’s an apt inscription.

Brenda enthusiastically flew the flag for many causes, and sports teams.

“She was the ultimate cheerleader,” Kurt said. “She rallied the community for her favourite causes.”

Gord is buried nearby in the veterans’ section of the cemetery.