An article in the National Post takes a look at how Canada's recent war dead in Afghanistan, and the Canadian Forces more generally, have roots in small towns like Nova Scotia's Truro.
The bumper sticker on Robin and Paulette Tedford's red Ford pickup truck is as direct as they come. "If you don't stand behind our troops," it reads beneath a Canadian flag, "feel free to stand in front of them." The message might seem jingoistic and surprising in peace-loving Canada, but the sticker is a hot item in this small central Nova Scotia town, and nobody here would think to question the Tedfords' right to display it.
On Oct. 14, 2006, their youngest son, Sergeant Darcy Tedford, 32, was on patrol outside Kandahar when his light-armoured vehicle was ambushed by Taliban insurgents firing rocket-propelled grenades. He and Private Blake Williamson were killed. Born in Calgary but raised near Truro since the age of one, Sgt. Tedford was the third solider from the area to be killed in Afghanistan. Corporal Christopher Reid, 34, had died in August 2006 when his light-armoured vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb, and a month later, Warrant Officer Frank Mellish, 38, was killed in fierce fighting with the Taliban. Last December saw the combat death of a fourth Truro native, Corporal Thomas Hamilton, 26, who was born in Truro and raised in Upper Musquodoboit, about 45 kilometres away.
For a town of just 12,000 people, the war in Afghanistan has taken an extraordinary toll. It should not, however, come as a surprise. A careful study of the list of the 133 Canadian soldiers who've lost their lives in Afghanistan since 2002 shows they are far more likely to have roots in a town such as Truro than in Toronto or Vancouver. Reflecting overall patterns of enlistment in the Canadian Forces, those killed hail disproportionately from Atlantic Canada and the Prairies. They are for the most part white males under 40 who come from small towns rather than major urban centres.
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Truro bills itself as "the hub of Nova Scotia," but it is a hub that most people skirt around on the way to and from Halifax. The tourism kiosk at Halifax airport greets arrivals with pamphlets on attractions in every corner of Nova Scotia, but the attendant came up empty when asked for material on Truro. Even inside the hub, a motel postcard rack offered cards from Digby, Pictou and the Annapolis Valley but nothing from Truro. Statistics Canada reports that the town's median household income is well below the provincial average, and its population is homogenous. Just 5% of the population are immigrants, with few recent arrivals, and English is the mother tongue of 96% of residents. It is a place where a Chinese restaurant can call itself Hou's Takee Outee without raising eyebrows.
It is also a place where military tradition runs deep. The names of 278 townsmen who fell in the two world wars, and now Afghanistan, are engraved on the downtown cenotaph. "The attitude of people here is they support the troops 100%," said Garry Higgins, president of the local Royal Canadian Legion branch. Remembrance Day ceremonies draw between 3,000 and 4,000 people, he said. Herb Peppard, an 89-year-old veteran of the Second World War, said the respect he receives from the townspeople reflects their appreciation of the military. "I think Nova Scotia is always represented well [in the Forces] compared to its population," he said. "We get very patriotic here."