The eyes of the nation upon her, Machaela Larocque tepidly laid a wreath at the National War Memorial at the centre of Confederation Square in Ottawa this Remembrance Day.
Of all the thousands of Junior Canadian Rangers (JCR) spread out across the nation’s northern frontier, the 17 year-old from Fort Resolution was selected to represent her peers in the sacred moment, “apparently because I am the best of the best of the Junior Rangers, that’s all I’ve been told.”
Larocque has participated in the youth program since the age of 12, completing leadership and on the land training every step of the way.
“When I was walking around the parade, I was just thinking please don’t trip, things like that, nothing else was going through my mind. Just don’t mess up,” the senior JCR said. “I felt major pride. I had to carry myself differently while I was there, just because I represented so many people and they deserve to be represented well.”
Those looking on couldn’t see the nerves, only a stoic teen decked out in the JCR’s iconic green hoodie and baseball cap.
“It’s so important because we wouldn’t have our freedom without the troops,” Larocque said of Remembrance Day. “Everything about it is important. So many good men and women sacrificed themselves so that we can have good lives. So many people say that, but that is exactly it.”
Following the ceremonious elements of her excursion, Larocque and her chaperone – fellow Canadian Ranger and Fort Res resident Dollie Simon – were given the capital experience.
“Looking at the crowd, seeing the vets, it was so beautiful,” Simon said. “I felt so proud because we were the only two Northerners there.”
“It was overwhelming,” Larocque said, describing her whirlwind trip.
From shaking hands with newly minted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to dinner with the Governor General and tours throughout the Parliament Buildings and the National War Museum, there was hardly a moment for rest. They even got to meet with Silver Cross Mother Sheila Anderson, of Yellowknife, the first from the NWT in more than 60 years to take part in the tradition.
“Once you actually meet them you’re like, they’re actually just people,” Laroque said. “Justin Trudeau was so down to earth, it was like, ‘Wow. He’s just like another human. He doesn’t have any ego.’ Everyone I met, I just realized they’re not any better than anyone else, they’re just equal, they’re just humans.”
Larocque said she was absolutely inspired by her “overwhelming” trip, even if it was over relatively quickly.
“I love Ottawa now and I’m actually planning on moving and going to university or college there, or maybe joining the military to become a medical officer or something.”
A brave and human face
Anderson told the Journal Sunday night the repeated emotional questions from the media have been more challenging to navigate than the trip to Ottawa, which she also described as overwhelming.
“I found that quite difficult but I’m glad I had the opportunity,” she said. “I had a wonderful trip. Having lost a family member to war, I think you need to put a human face on that. Unfortunately this year it had to be mine (but) Canadians stand behind us as grieving parents and for the vets as well.”
Anderson’s son, Corporal Jordan Anderson was killed with five other Canadian soldiers when a roadside bomb exploded southwest of Kandahar City on July 4, 2007.
The Silver Cross Mother said her taking on the responsibility of laying a wreath in Ottawa was less about her own son and more about the families of other soldiers from other conflicts, and those soldiers who return home needing support.
“There were so many killed in the world wars,” she said. “Some parents never had their kids’ bodies repatriated and to me it’s more importantly about that and the people that come back alive and need help. Our previous government has sort made that difficult and I hope the new government will correct all of that.”