Peace park for VC veteran highlights “getaway land” in COVID recovery

BY CATHERINE SOPLET

Three years ago, on Oct. 14, 2018, I stepped onto getaway land my grandfather acquired around 1941 during the early years of WW2. I had the privilege to participate in a World War 1 (WW1) commemorative military ceremony to observe 100 years of combat action by the Royal Newfoundland Regiment that led to the Victoria Cross (V.C.) for my grandfather, Sgt. Thomas Ricketts, V.C., C. de G., and valour medals for his comrades, notably Lance Cpl. Matthew Brazil. Since the Mar. 2020 pandemic, the recently developed Kiwanis Club of Kelligrews facilities have been used for COVID training by government and business, and the grounds for safe outdoor recreation on hiking trails, child’s play and baseball as can be permitted under pandemic restrictions.

“We probably have hundreds of people coming out over a weekend,” says Kiwanis Past President Clem Drake, who spent some sunny days with his tally counter on a bench along the groomed hiking trails. “Some people drive in for an hour just to hike on the groomed trails. Many bring along their dogs.”

In 2018, the WW1 100-year commemoration was organized by the Committee for the Kiwanis Tommy Ricketts Memorial Peace Park, cochaired by Kiwanis Past-President Clement Drake, and Past-President of Royal Canadian Legion, Insp. Robert Hilliard (Retired) of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.

Military and government dignitaries included the Minister for Veterans Affairs, Hon. Seamus O’Regan, local MP Ken McDonald, MLA Betty Parsley and Town of CBS Mayor Terry French, who joined a crowd of more than 400 people to name Kiwanis Tommy Ricketts Memorial Peace Park, in honour of the youngest V.C., aged 17.5 years. Renowned bronze sculptor Morgan MacDonald of Newfoundland Bronze Foundry attended.

He was commissioned to create both the Victoria Cross Citation Monument and the clay maquette for a future bronze statue of Pte. Tommy Ricketts, as he would have appeared when he enlisted at the age of 15.5 years. The vision for the park was first announced on Victoria Day Weekend in May 2015 by Hon. Frank Fagan, Lt. Governor for Newfoundland and Labrador. The Western Star reported: ‘The Kiwanis Thomas Ricketts Memorial Park will have a baseball field, amphitheatre and playground for young people, paying tribute to how young Ricketts was when he signed up.

‘There will also be a Kiwanis memorial garden and a Tommy Ricketts monument. The park will be located at Kelligrews Lower Gully River. “This new monument will be a visible and lasting reminder of an expression of the deep gratitude and admiration we have for Tommy Ricketts or people like Tommy Ricketts,” Fagan said. While the monument and amphitheatre were sidelined under COVID, the Peace Park amenities installed up until 2018 have proven to be a welcome respite for outdoor recreation, a safe location for corporate and government COVID protocol training and a source of summer jobs for youth under the Canada Summer Jobs program.

A potential new target of 2025 can see the completion of the Tommy Ricketts monument and amphitheatre, to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the founding of Memorial College (now Memorial University of Newfoundland). In Jan. 2019, to mark 100 years of his Victoria Cross investiture, the MUN School of Pharmacy created the Thomas (Tommy) Ricketts Award in Pharmacy Education to honour his unlikely journey from illiterate fisherman to pharmacist and business owner. With wellbeing, outdoor recreation and pharmacare top of mind in a post- COVID recovery world, my grandfather’s repurposed getaway land has more relevance than ever.

About the author

Asia Metro Editor

Surjit Singh Flora
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