A first-ever veterans appreciation event in Jasper just might outshine glowing foliage and mountain peaks as a fall attraction this year.
“We don’t really have something like this in Canada so this is a great first test on this scale,” said retired captain Greg Key, one of the organizers of Vetfest 2021.
The Nov. 1 to Nov. 15 gathering welcomes Canadian Forces veterans and current and former members of the RCMP from Nov. 1-15.
In addition to coinciding with Remembrance Day, Vetfest features ceremonies for National Indigenous Veterans Day and Jasper’s Salute to Women Veterans.
Among speakers and performers set to attend is an Indigenous elder veteran, a veteran from the Grand Cache Mountain Métis Association, retired major John F. Mahon, the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Drum Line, and the James Gang Drummers from the Aseniwuche Winewak Nation.
“It warms my heart to witness members of a community coming together with its veterans, Legion members and serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces to celebrate those Canadians who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Mahon in a news release from festival co-organizer Tourism Jasper.
Planning for the extravaganza grew from Jasper’s Veterans Adventures, a group that collects outdoor gear for veterans who want to explore the national park, said Kevin Henderson, director of business development with Tourism Jasper.
“This developed out of that program (to help) build as a fundraiser. All funds will go back into PTSD (support) programs,” Henderson said. “It’s the 100th anniversary this year of the poppy. All the hotels and businesses are eager to help out with discounts and deals and make room for speakers.”
On Nov. 12-14, the Jasper Activity Center will host a trade show of at least 10 veteran-owned businesses from across Canada, including a craft brewery and a motorcycle group.
Several restaurants, lounges and bars will be designated for different military groups, such as for the army or navy, so members can socialize with others with whom they served.
Veterans from the Korean War, Balkan Wars and Afghanistan will be in attendance.
It’s uncertain if World War Two veterans will attend due to COVID-19 concerns with elderly members travelling, Henderson said.
“This will be a ‘thank you’ to all the veterans for their service,” said Key, who is also vice-president of the Jasper Legion.
“We’re still actively deployed around the world on UN peacekeeping tours and with NORAD and NATO. It’s a salute to Indigenous people and women and to first responders who give back to the communities. Jasper in itself is a destination, so to have some purpose and to pay appreciation to veterans is absolutely fantastic.”
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