The Canadian Army and the City of Cranbrook celebrated the start of a greater presence in the community with the official opening of a new armoury for 44 Engineer Squadron at the end of Cranbrook Street North.
44 Engineer Squadron, a reserve regiment of the Canadian Forces, is part of 39 Combat Engineer Regiment, in turn part of 39 Canadian Brigade Group. It is based out of Trail and Cranbrook, and is made up of combat engineers and other support trades from both Cranbrook and Trail.
Following a well-attended open house, with displays and recruitment information available, an opening ceremony was held.
Lieut. Bart Fyffe of the 44 Engineers summarized the long history of military service in the Kootenays and how it continues into today.
The 44 Engineer Squadron grew out the Kootenay Battalion, formed during the First World War. After that war and through the Second World War, various restructuring by the Canadian Army eventually led to the creation of the unit.
“The Engineer Squadron was stood up in 1955, and has been a permanent fixture in the City of Trail since.” Lieut. Fyffe said.
“And now, in 2019, we have a permanent residence in Cranbrook, as the Cranbrook troop has moved out here with their new armoury.”
The new armoury is part of a planned expansion of the unit in the Kootenay region. Until now, the squadron’s Reserve combat engineers have been parading in Cranbrook out of temporary accommodations. Needing more space for equipment and its growing numbers, the unit signed a lease for a new location last October.
Lieutenant Colonel James P. Julien, Commanding Officer 39 Combat Engineer Regiment, offered welcoming remarks, mentioning all the work that had gone into the establishment of the new armoury.
“We did a regimental full court press, if you will. We brought in guys from the Lower Mainland from the Regiment to join our brothers and sisters in Trail and Cranbrook to put this together.”
Lt. Col Julien especially praised Major Leah Wilson, Officer Commanding of 44 Squadron.
“Signing of the lease for this building, the selection process, all the inspections that have to happen, that all takes time. It’s been at least a two year uphill slog for Major Wilson to get us here. Lots of other players had a lot to do with it. But Leah, you knocked it out of the park [to get this building.]”
Lt. Col. Julien also announced that Private Mark of the Squadron would receive a trident honorary coin for displaying feats of strength during a Brigade bridge-building exercise.
Col Paul Ursich, Brigade Commander, 39 Canadian Brigade Group, said that his “great hope is that the opening of the new armoury … marks the next stage in the evolution of the relationship between 39 Combat Engineer Regiment and the Canadian Armed Forces and Cranbrook.
“This facility will be a fantastic base of operations for Cadets as well as for serving members of the Reserve.”
39 Canadian Brigade Group, Col. Ursich explained, “is the Army in British Columbia. There are 11 units, like 39 Combat Engineer Regiment, everywhere from Cranbrook to Victoria and as far north as Prince George. There are almost 2,000 soldiers in that Brigade, and most of them are part-time people who have another life outside the military.”
One of the roles of the Army Reserve is to support operations, Col. Ursich said. “It’s a key role … whether that’s World War One, where we’re going off to a full-scale war, or whether it’s a UN operation, or a mission in Afghanistan, or a domestic operation, like we’ve seen in British Columbia in the last two summers.
“Part of what the soldiers here are going to be doing is to be ready for that kind of stuff. It’s another way for the City to help contribute to Canadian operations in support of our own communities such as Cranbrook.”
In the next year, the 3rd Canadian Division (Army of the West) is going to be deploying a number of soldiers overseas, Col. Ursich said. “Some of them may be coming from Cranbrook. As a community, realize that some of your soldiers may be overseas in places like Iraq, the Ukraine, Latvia …”
Mayor Lee Pratt also spoke, about the benefits the enhanced presence of the military would bring to Cranbrook.
In the Army Reserves the role of engineers includes constructing and maintain roads and airfields, building bridges, providing safe drinking water, constructing defences, detecting and disposing of mines, as well as operating heavy equipment.