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Sappers preserve piece of Chilliwack’s military history

Saturday retired military engineers will unveil the refurbished reviewing stand at the former CFB Chilliwack.
This military reviewing stand

The bark of the drill sergeant and sound of marching boots has long since faded from the parade square at CFB Chilliwack.

But the memories will linger a while longer.

This Saturday retired military engineers will mark nearly six decades of history in Chilliwack with the official unveiling of a refurbished reviewing stand at the former CFB Chilliwack.

The elevated stand, once part of the expansive parade ground, had fallen into neglect when the engineers were moved and the base closed in the mid 1990s.

As part of the construction of the Canada Education Park, Caen Avenue was extended to skirt the north end of the parade square, which now serves as a parking lot for the University of the Fraser Valley. The stark-white concrete viewing stand remained – but an orphan of the large asphalt parade square it once commanded.

Now, through the efforts of local volunteers and the support of veterans and military personnel from around the world, the stand has been brought back to its former glory and put into historical context.

This Saturday those efforts will be celebrated.

Members of the Retired Sappers Association have painstakingly preserved the viewing stand, from which officers would watch their troops assemble. It’s been repainted and interpretive markers posted.

Their work continues an effort by Canada Lands Corporation and a cadre of volunteers to preserve the military history of Chilliwack, and particularly the former Canada Forces Base Chilliwack.

It’s a history that stretches back at least 57 years to when the A6-Canadian Engineers Training Centre was producing combat engineers for the field.

Today, that history competes with the residential and institutional development that is transforming the old army base.

But it can be found in more than the memories of those who once served there. It can be seen in the legacy makers and monuments that punctuate Garrison Crossing  and Canada Education Park, which sprang from recommendations made by a focus group gathered by Canada Lands to find ways to preserve CFB Chilliwack’s rich history.

That group, composed of civilian workers, ex-military and their dependents and presided over by Ron Denman, former director of Chilliwack Museum, recommended the reviewing stand be kept intact and used as a memorial.

“Through the generosity of retired sappers from around the world, veterans, serving military personnel, and the community of Chilliwack that wish has been fulfilled through donations and hard work,” says the sappers association.

On Saturday at 1 p.m. that effort will be honoured with a ceremony featuring Colonel Commandant, Canada Military Engineers,  Brigadier General R.W. Deslauriers (Ret.), himself a former trainee at CFB Chilliwack.

A reception at the former Officers Mess at 24 Normandy Drive, now the Canada Lands presentation centre, will follow.

Although the viewing stand has been fully restored, work to fund the project continues. Engraved bricks, which have been laid on either side of the steps to the stand are still available for a donation of $100.

For more information, contact the Jim Harris of the CFB Chilliwack Historical Society at 604.769.3833.