Freedom of Strathcona County Parade
By Lieutenant Murray McTavish and Captain Callum Smith
In ancient Rome, military units were forbidden from entering the boundary of the city. Upon crossing the city lines, military personnel, including Generals, resigned their status and were considered simple citizens while within the city. They were not permitted to wear their uniforms or carry weapons. The only exception to this rule was when a General would be awarded a Ceremony of Triumph, which was an honour bestowed to him following a military victory. In this Ceremony, a General and his soldiers would be permitted to enter the city for one day, during which they would stage a parade to celebrate their victory. This tradition continued and evolved throughout medieval Europe to become what it is today – a Freedom of the City Parade. Or in simpler terms: a ceremonial privilege granted to a military unit who has served a municipality in an extraordinary way, such that the local government wishes to bestow it an honour in recognition of this service.
It was against this backdrop that Sherwood Park honoured Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) with the Freedom of Strathcona County on Saturday, 24 August 2013. As always, the Regiment decided to repay this great gesture of respect with an impressive display of Calvary spirit. Early that Saturday morning, the darkness was shattered by the massive rumbling of the Regiment’s Leopard Tanks and Coyotes firing up their engines.
Had it not been for the police escort, the public would have undoubtedly believed they were watching a scene straight out of Red Dawn, as a single column of more than forty armoured vehicles and tanks drove along country roads and highways on route to Strathcona County Hall, the location of the parade. Once the vehicles were parked, the crews dismounted and enjoyed a mixed pancake breakfast with the Sherwood Park RCMP and influential members of the community, such as Chief Constable Gary Steinke, Regional Chief Cameron Alexis, Deputy Mayor Peter Wlodorczak, and Mayor Linda Osinchuk. Strathcona soldiers then bedazzled the public with an impressive vehicle static display, allowing members to sit in turrets and explore the column of vehicles.
At 1100 hours, the low rumble of engines starting up could be heard once again, and the parade celebration was about to begin. In the midday heat, the 100 Man Guard, with the Strathcona Pipes and Drums Band front and centre lead by Drum Major Sergeant Pat Stoyko, took its position in front of the County Hall. Moments later, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Peyton, the Commanding Officer of Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians), was halted by the Chief Constable, symbolically barring entry of the Regiment into the city. Under escort, the Commanding Officer knocked on the doors of Strathcona County Hall, requesting entry. After speeches by the Commanding Officer and the Mayor of Strathcona County, the Guard was inspected, under Officer Commanding Headquarters Squadron Major Michael Mallette. Pleased with the state of the soldiers, the Mayor then granted Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) the freedom to enter the County of Strathcona with “Bayonets fixed, Drums beating and Colours flying.”
Led by the Commanding Officer, the Regiment conducted a roll-past, which was executed expertly, save for one little hiccough involving a broken down Ferret Scout car (a vehicle that served with the Strathcona’s from 1954 to 1981) from our Historical Vehicle Troop. This impromptu halt effectively granted the Technical Quartermaster Sergeant, Master Warrant Officer Mark Riley, and the Regimental Guidon he is entrusted with, pride of place directly in front of the Dias. As always, the Regiment persevered, and after a few short speeches and a spectacular demonstration from the Strathcona Mounted Troop, led by Captain Corey McLean, the parade was complete.
Whereas, thanks to the extremely hard and fast work of the maintainers and crewmen at the Regiment, the road-move to Sherwood Park went down without a hitch, the move back was somewhat more troublesome. Most notable was Sergeant Matthew Williams’s breakdown on a bridge just outside Fort Saskatchewan, which held up traffic for several kilometres in all directions. Despite this minor traffic obstruction, the majority of the vehicles returned back to the Regiment without concern except for a few dirty-faced crews (as a result of the rear-facing exhaust in the Leopard IIs), as Officer Commanding A Squadron, Major Eric “Black Face” Angell can attest to.
Being granted the Freedom of a City has always been a very prestigious gesture, and we are truly appreciative of Strathcona County for this honour. Events such as these only serve to highlight the importance of the relationship between the military and the communities we serve.